UN: One Third of Food Produced for Human Consumption Is Uneaten

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Peter Dazeley / GETTY

A new report suggests that some 1.3 billion metric tons of food in the world is lost (on the production side of the food supply chain) or wasted (on the consumption side) each year. That’s about one-third of total edibles produced for humans.

It’s not the only jarring statistic in the study conducted by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, on behalf of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Consumers in industrialized nations waste nearly 222 million tons of food each year — virtually the equivalent of sub-Saharan Africa’s total net food production (230 million tonnes). And in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as South and Southeast Asia, individual consumers waste between 6-11 kg (13-24 lbs.) annually, while consumers in Europe and North America discard more than eight times as much: between 95-115 kg (209-254 lbs.).

(PHOTOS: What the World Eats)

Among the causes of waste are all-you-can-eat buffets and buy-one-get-one-free deals. You may think you’re getting a bargain if you buy two for the price of one of something — so what if it expires before you eat it? It won’t cost you any money if you throw it away, but it’s a raw deal for the planet. For it’s not just food we’re throwing away, it’s all the resources that went into making it, and all the greenhouse gases that were needlessly emitted in the process.

Another way to lessen waste? Don’t judge a vegetable by its cover. “Supermarkets seem convinced that consumers will not buy food that has the ‘wrong’ weight, size or appearance,” the report notes, explaining retailers’ spurning of certain produce. It adds that surveys don’t support this assumption: people will buy less-than-perfect-looking food as long as the taste is the same.

Consumers can do a lot, but that squandered 1.3 billion tons also includes food lost during production and processing. In low-income countries, the report states, the focus should be on such aspects as better harvesting techniques and improved infrastructure.

All this comes on the heels of a separate UN report, with another striking figure: 10.1 billion. That’s the projected global population by 2100. The FAO’s new study emphasizes that ensuring food security for more people isn’t just about producing more to eat; it’s about changing the way we produce and consume what we’ve already got. (via BBC)

(PHOTOS: A Worldwide Day’s Worth of Food)

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