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Waste not, want not

Posted 10/02/2010 by RoseS

UK food and drink industry experts gathered at Whitehall last week to discuss the problem that is currently troubling governments worldwide: how to ensure there will be enough food in coming decades to feed the planet’s burgeoning population. By 2050, it is estimated there will be 9bn people on the planet and farmers will need to increase agricultural productivity by upwards of 50% to cope not only with the growing number of mouths to be fed but also with the increased meat consumption among the swelling ranks of more affluent consumers in the developing world (C&I 2010, 1, 17).

Various solutions are being considered – from specially engineered and high yielding super crops designed to tolerate increasingly harsh conditions to precision farming methods geared to using the least inputs for greater gains and even the draconian step (for some) of adopting a more vegetarian diet.

One of the often under-reported aspects of the debate, however, is the no small matter of food waste, according to Joanne Denney Finch, chief executive of IGD, speaking at the Whitehall event. Food waste currently accounts for almost half of global food production, Denney pointed out: eliminating it would effectively double food production. Western nations are not the only ones guilty of accumulating vast amounts of food waste – although consumers here have no excuses – but the problem is arguably even more acute in the developing world, where inefficient methods of harvesting, poor infrastructure and storage facilities can lead to losses of upwards of 30% for some crops.

With 1 billion people on the planet (16% of the total population) currently failing to meet their minimum daily caloric intake, food security is already a major issue in many of the world’s poorest economies. ‘If the world really wanted to solve world hunger, wouldn’t we have done it already?’ asked David Frabotta, writing in a recent issue of Farm Chemicals International (November 2009, p 26). Building more roads and other infrastructure, Frabotta argued, would have a real and lasting impact in reducing world hunger, where all the previous aid efforts have so far miserably failed.

Plastic packaging meanwhile, is another often under-recognised weapon in the war on food waste, argues Dick Searle, chief executive of The Packaging Federation. The UK government-backed Food 2030 report contained just one mention of food packaging on page 16, Seale pointed out – and then only a statement about the need to reduce unnecessary packaging. However, modified atmosphere packaging can extend the shelf life of meat – one of the biggest contributors to the food industry’s carbon footprint – from two days to up to two weeks. As the old saying goes, waste not, want not!

Cath O’Driscoll, Deputy editor

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