The private sector must take the lead in battling food waste in all areas of the supply chain, warned officials attending a ministerial session at FAO Regional Conference for Europe, in Bucharest.
In a paper prepared for the session, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) examined food losses and waste in Europe. The paper (found here) compared low-, middle- and high-income countries, and looking at seven different supply chains: dairy, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables, oil crops and pulses, roots and tubers, and cereals.
The paper suggested that if food losses and waste (FLW) could be halved, then the required increase of available food to feed the ever growing world population by 2050 would only need to be 25% - and not 60% as is currently projected.
“Targeted investments to reduce FLW at any significant scale could be primarily done by the private sector,” said the report. “To a large extent, FLW are rational from a private perspective as they are the result of the optimizing behaviour of agents.”
“Considering its nature and causes, halving FLW can be assumed to be a feasible target: technically, economically, environmentally and socially.”
The FAO officials suggested that reducing food losses and waste ‘is essential’ to improving the sustainability of food systems – and can contribute to broader systemic changes.
“Such changes towards better efficiency and sustainability can also involve actions to improve the valorisation of co-products and of food related waste,”
“However, in certain countries there are serious limitations due to ineffective food chains, and a lack of capacity to preserve or process foods, or limited markets.”
The food waste battle
The FAO officials cited notable differences in the patterns of food losses and waste depending on income levels. For example, most of the losses in the developed countries occur at the consumption stage, while in the middle and low-income countries the largest losses occur at the production and post-harvest stages of the value chain.
Indeed, the paper found that up to 25% of bread products in high-income countries are wasted.
These problems can be influenced by consumer desire for longer shelf life and aesthetically pleasing foods, said the paper.
Consumer behaviour is only part of the picture, however. Significant levels of food loss can occur at farm level, during storage, transport and processing, said the FAO.
Looking at the roots and tubers commodity group (potatoes, root vegetables), the study found that for high-income countries of the European Union and European Free Trade Association, losses at the production phase is highest, with just over 30% of crops lost or wasted during the harvesting process. A further 17% loss occurs in processing and packaging.
In middle- and low-income countries, however, the study found almost no processing and packaging loss or waste for roots and tubers.
Ministers and delegates called on FAO to intensify its analytical work to better understand the causes of food losses and waste, and help countries build their own capacity for improved statistics and data.
The organization also plan to facilitate the exchange of solutions and best practices for addressing the problems, presenting policy options that governments can pursue. Examples include support for the development of producer organizations so that small producers can increase volumes and engage directly with processors or retailers, or develop joint pre-cooling and storage capacity.