Food Wastage: A global problem

Food loss is defined as the decrease in quantity or quality of food products intended for human consumption that are ultimately not eaten by people or that have incurred a reduction in quality reflected in their nutritional value, economic value or food safety.

Food wastage refers to any food lost by deterioration or waste, thus the term wastage encompasses both food loss and food waste. Food waste is expected to constitute a growing problem in developing countries given the changes that food systems in these countries are undergoing because of such factors as rapid urbanization, expansion of supermarket chains, and changes in diets and lifestyles.

Crop production choices and patterns, internal infrastructure and capacity, marketing chains and channels for distribution, and consumer purchasing and food use practices are also responsible for food loss. The wastage of food ultimately leads to its loss which have a great impact on food security for poor people, on food quality and safety, on economic development and on the environment.

As the world population continues to grow geometrically, great pressure is being placed on arable land, water, energy, and biological resources to provide an adequate supply of food while maintaining the integrity of our ecosystem.

Food waste refers to food that is of good quality and fit for human consumption but that does not get consumed because it is discarded—either before or after it spoils. Food wastage is a global problem as it doesn’t occur in one state only, it is world-wide so basic steps be should be taken to tackle with this global problem, to protect the foods from wastage which ultimately leads to the up gradation of economic value.

Food loss and waste have many negative economic and environmental impacts. Economically, they represent a wasted investment that can reduce farmers’ incomes and increase consumers’ expenses. Food wastage is an alarming issue in India especially in Kashmir region. Our street and garbage bins, landfills have sufficient proof to prove it. Weddings, canteens, hotels, social and family functions, households spew out so much food.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40 percent of the food produced in India is wasted. About 21 million tonnes of wheat are wasted in India and 50 percent of all food across the world meets the same fate and never reaches the needy.

Food wastage can be from different sources leading to food loss. This food wastage is of different types including agricultural waste (Vegetable commodities and products), where food loss occurs due to mechanical damage or due to spillage during harvest operation.

Further food is wasted due to the mishandling during post-harvest and storage, including losses due to spillage and degradation during handling, storage and transportation between farm and distribution. Wastage of food is also due to spillage and degradation during industrial or domestic processing, for example juice production, canning, bread baking etc.

Food is wasted in the market system and during consumption at the household level, due to the mishandling of the food products or due to non-consumption of these products before the expiry date or kept exposed for a long time after opening the seal.

Roughly one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption, gets lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion ton per year. Food is wasted throughout the FSC (Food Supply Chains), from initial agricultural production down to final household consumption.

In medium- and high-income countries, food is to a great extent wasted, meaning that it is thrown away even if it is still suitable for human consumption. In low-income countries food is mainly lost during the early and middle stages of the food supply chain; much less food is wasted at the consumer level.

Failure to comply with minimum food safety standards can lead to food losses and, in extreme cases, impact on the food security status of a country. A range of factors can lead to food being unsafe, such as naturally occurring toxins in food itself, contaminated water, unsafe use of pesticides, and veterinary drug residues.

FAO’s Save Food Initiative is supported by other United Nations organizations, particularly the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). These organizations work together under the vision of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Zero Hunger Challenge, which has as its fifth element “zero loss or waste of food”.

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has constructively worked with, and on behalf of, governments and engaged food and drink retailers as well as manufacturers and trade bodies to establish voluntary food waste reduction targets, design waste reduction techniques, help the sector make changes to processes, products and packaging to prevent waste, and raise consumer awareness.

Reducing food loss and waste requires action by a wide range of factors―households, companies, farmers, policy makers, and more. FAO recognizes the need to undertake action in partnership with other regional and international organizations, and with food chain actors ranging from herders, farmers, manufacturers, packagers and transporters to global companies.

Partnerships are equally important in mobilizing the resources required for action. Cooperation among farmers could reduce risk of overproduction by allowing surplus crops from one farm to solve a shortage of crops on another.

The approach to reducing food loss and waste is embedded in the broader concept of promoting sustainable food systems, which encompasses sustainable food production on the one hand, and sustainable diets and consumption (such as through the reduction of food waste) on the other. Measures for reducing food loss and waste have to be environmentally sustainable and should foster food and nutrition security.

Bisma Zargar