Food waste demands new thinking from industry

05/16/2014 10:23:00 AM
Tim York

What do these issues have in common: hunger, food insecurity, public health and sustainability? The answer may surprise you.

Food waste.

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.


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Rod Averbuch    
Chicago IL  |  May, 16, 2014 at 01:06 PM

Hi Tim, I 100% agree with you! 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. There is no single cure, or silver bullet for food waste reduction therefore, 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 combined with the consumer “Last In First Out” shopping behavior might be one of the weakest links of the fresh food supply chain. There is a new open GS1 DataBar standard that enables applications that 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.com Rod Averbuch Chicago, IL

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