UPDATED: USDA estimates retail and consumer food loss - The Packer

UPDATED: USDA estimates retail and consumer food loss

02/24/2014 05:26:00 PM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 26) More than 30% of U.S. food available at the retail and consumer levels goes uneaten, and the ratio of loss is even greater for fresh fruits and vegetables.

With a 19% share of total food loss, vegetables are the second largest source of U.S. food loss after meat, poultry and fish (30% share), according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fresh fruit accounts for 13.9% of total food waste, according to the USDA.

The study estimated food loss at the retail and consumer levels in the U.S. at 133 billion pounds in 2010, or 31% of the 430 billion pounds of total available food.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service study said retail losses account for 10% (43 billion pounds) of the total food supply; the USDA pegs consumer-level losses at 21% (90 billion pounds) of the total available food supply.

The fresh fruit supply in the U.S. in 2010 totaled 37.6 billion pounds. Losses of fresh fruit at retail totaled 4.4 billion pounds, or 9% of total fresh fruit supply. The USDA said consumer level losses of fresh fruit were 9.5 billion pounds, 25% of the total fresh fruit supply. Taken together, retail and consumer losses for fresh fruit were 13.9 billion pounds, or 37% of total fresh fruit supply.

Total retail and consumer losses of fresh vegetables totaled 18 billion pounds, or 34% of the total fresh vegetable supply of 53.5 billion pounds. Retail losses of fresh vegetables are pegged at 5.2 billion pounds, or 10% of the total fresh vegetable supply. Consumer-level losses were 12.8 billion pounds, or 24% of the total fresh vegetable supply.

Report authors Jean Buzby, Hodan Wells and Jeffrey Hyman said the U.S. or any other country cannot entirely eliminate food waste. The researchers also said that data on exactly where, why and how food losses and waste occur — and the economic incentives to reduce these losses — is unavailable.

Still, they said food loss can be trimmed, perhaps by industry-led initiatives or government-led policies, such as information campaigns and additional changes in federal laws.

“In the end, economic incentives and consumer behavior will be paramount in reducing food loss,” according to the report.

The issue of food loss and food waste has been a topic within the Produce Marketing Association's Field to Fork blog, said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based PMA.  “We don’t have consumer oriented materials, but we are providing resources to our members on food waste,” she said.

The PMA’s Fresh Summit expo had a session on food waste last year, including the perspective of the Food Waste Prevention Alliance,  Means said.  Some industry operators have begun to install anaerobic digesters to reduce food and to limit what goes to the landfill. More clarity by consumers about what use-by dates mean may also be needed to reduce food waste, Means said. 

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Rod Averbuch    
Chicago IL  |  February, 24, 2014 at 06:49 PM

The large amount of food waste is a lose-lose situation for the environment, the struggling families in today’s tough economy and for the food retailers. We should address the food waste problem in every link in our food supply chain. For example, the excess inventory of perishable food items close to their expiration on supermarket shelves causes waste. The consumer “Last In First Out” shopping behavior might be one of the weakest links of the fresh food supply chain. Why not utilize the new open GS1 DataBar standard to encourage efficient consumer shopping by offering him automatic and dynamic purchasing incentives for perishables approaching their expiration dates before they end up in a landfill? The “End Grocery Waste” application, which is based on the open GS1 DataBar standard, encourages efficient consumer shopping behavior that maximizes grocery retailer revenue, makes fresh food affordable for all families and effectively reduces the global carbon footprint. You can look this application up at EndGroceryWaste site. Rod, Chicago, IL

Rick Bella    
Chicago  |  February, 25, 2014 at 08:31 AM

Great points Rod! I also remember years ago that retail prices reflected the true "market" of fresh foods moving up and down each week to keep food moving through the supply chain. Today, I notice that many retail prices remain the same no matter what the current "supply" really is of that particular commodity. I was told that this is due to restocking costs at retail, but do retailers really need to sell apples for $2.29 per pound when a delivered price could be .50 cents, for example? Seems like new ways of pricing have cut out the consumers chance for taking part in an abundance of food. Sure markets seem to swing up when necessary, but I don't see the drops as fast. Just a thought.

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