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Are We Wasting Food, or are We Losing Food?

Today’s blog is a shorter one from me.  We have been exploring the concept of food waste over the last few weeks and I thought it was important to mention that that food is that is never consumed results from two things:  food loss or food waste. In line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, we want to see global food waste halved by 2030, and major reductions achieved in food loss. These outcomes will substantially reduce the demand for food production, which allows us to ease pressures on nature.

We know that one third of the food that is produced and grown worldwide, is never consumed. But what is Food Loss vs Food Waste?

The distinction is incredibly important to understand. As a society, we need to tackle both separately.

The Definitions:

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations define the differences between food loss and food waste:

Food loss is “the decrease in edible food mass throughout the part of the supply chain that specifically leads to edible food for human consumption”, including the production, post-harvest and processing stages.

Food waste is food loss that occurs “at the end of the food chain”, i.e. during retail or final consumption.

Put more simply, food loss is food that has become unfit for consumption before it reaches the consumer, and food waste as the discarding of food that is fit for consumption, either before or after it spoils.

The Developed v The Developing World:

I have outlined below some reasons why food may be lost or wasted and the differences that lie between higher income and lower income countries.

Relative Amount of Food LossPossible Causes of Food LossRelative Amount of Food WastePossible Causes of Food WasteHigher Income CountriesLow– Farmers producing more than necessary to ensure they fulfil their supply contracts.

– Strict aesthetic and quality standards set by major supermarkets that lead to edible food not being offered for sale.

– Trimming of food during processing and/or display.

High– Abundance of food and many brands being displayed in shops, with some food expiring before it can be sold.

– Higher disposable income, with food being a smaller part of total household expenditure.  People are therefore financially able to waste more food.

– Abundance of food available in restaurants and stores, which can encourage people to buy more food than they can eat.

– Unclear labelling and portion sizes.

Lower Income CountriesHigh– Crops being harvested too early (due to need for money or food), which can make them unsuitable for consumption.

– Poor refrigerated storage and/ or infrastructure.

-Insufficient industry capacity for processing and preserving food.

– Unsanitary conditions in wholesale or retail markets.

Low– Lower disposable incomes mean that people cannot afford to waste food. Furthermore, people often only buy the food they need for the day of purchase.

So what next?

As displayed above, in the developing world, a larger proportion of the food going uneaten is lost, whereas in the developed world, waste is the more significant problem.

The bottom line is that food is lost and wasted in every corner of the world. Improvements are needed across all food systems to minimise impacts on nature and ensure that food that is produced winds up where it is intended (i.e. consumed).

With a better understanding of what is being lost and why, the right solutions can be implemented. Businesses can make investment in their operations and consumers can take responsibility for their actions. There may be times when policy makers need to implement legislation, to either incentivise food loss and waste reduction, or to penalise those who are throwing away edible food. The most effective solutions will involve multi-stakeholder collaboration and the design of food systems which work for everyone.


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