As discussions take place about the haves and have-nots, income disparity and minimum wage, hunger and nutrition are right in the mix. While wages and living conditions may evoke disparate opinions, hunger is one we can’t argue against — it’s a moral issue.
Food waste at the intersection of a myriad of issues was a trend recently identified by Food Foresight, a trends intelligence system for the agri-food chain.
If food waste is defined simply as losses that can be eliminated at little or no cost, it’s hard to argue against it.
But eliminating food waste often involves hard costs related to harvesting, transporting and getting food to those who need it. What’s more, food waste occurs throughout the supply chain — at the field and all the way to a refrigerator or plate. As our supply chain is complex, so must be our solutions.
The National Resources Defense Council put food waste center stage in 2012 with the publication of a report that found around 40% of the food in the U.S. each year is uneaten, worth an estimated $165 billion to $180 billion.
Almost all of this food ends up in landfills, contributing 16% of the U.S. methane emissions. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study released this year identified three food groups that accounted for the most losses: dairy, 19%; vegetables, 19% (due to perishability and losses at home); and grains, 14%.
In the U.S., our fruit and vegetable waste is also driven by overplanting, market prices, strict quality or appearance specifications, logistics, and what is rarely discussed: an under-developed infrastructure for product that is edible but not meeting market standards.
Increased scrutiny may shine a light on the not-well-addressed issue of on-farm waste, when growers can only harvest product that meets strict buyer requirements or redeems packing and other marginal costs.
While some growers may defend their waste/surplus practices because it is diverted to animal feed, the Food Safety Modernization Act proposals, if not rewritten, could regulate and limit the using of food waste as animal feed.
Data from Florida indicates that 180 million pounds annually of cull from produce go to cattle feed each year.
At the same time, food waste and food insecurity coexist. In the U.S., of the 49 million people living in food-insecure households, nearly 16% are children, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.