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Fifth of world's food lost to over-eating and waste

Staff Writer |
Almost 20 percent of the food made available to consumers is lost through over-eating or waste, a study suggests.

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The world population consumes around 10 percent more food than it needs, while almost nine percent is thrown away or left to spoil, researchers say.

Efforts to reduce the billions of tonnes lost could improve global food security - ensuring everyone has access to a safe, affordable, nutritious diet - and help prevent damage to the environment, the team says.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh examined ten key stages in the global food system - including food consumption and the growing and harvesting of crops - to quantify the extent of losses.

Using data collected primarily by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the team found that more food is lost from the system than was previously thought.

Almost half of harvested crops - or 2.1 billion tonnes - are lost through over-consumption, consumer waste and inefficiencies in production processes, researchers say.

Livestock production is the least efficient process, with losses of 78 percent or 840 million tonnes, the team found. Some 1.08 billion tonnes of harvested crops are used to produce 240 million tonnes of edible animal products including meat, milk and eggs.

This stage alone accounts for 40 percent of all losses of harvested crops, researchers say.

Increased demand for some foods, particularly meat and dairy products, would decrease the efficiency of the food system and could make it difficult to feed the world's expanding population in sustainable ways, researchers say.

Meeting this demand could cause environmental harm by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, depleting water supplies and causing loss of biodiversity.

Encouraging people to eat fewer animal products, reduce waste and not exceed their nutritional needs could help to reverse these trends, the team says.

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