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Stop wasting food – or energy?

Posted 12/10/2010 by KatieJ

At a time when there is so much concern about the problems of feeding the burgeoning world population, there comes some US research that puts a different slant on the quantities of food that are wasted on a daily basis, particularly the food that is thrown away in the developed world and especially in the US.

According to the researchers at the Center for International Energy & Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, the US could save the energy equivalent of up to 350m barrels of oil each year by just reducing and even stopping food wastage (A. Cuellar and M. Webber, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44, (16), 6464).

They have estimated that some 1.4bn barrels of oil are used each year to produce, prepare, preserve and distribute food in the US. The latest estimate from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in March 2010 estimates that 15.7% of energy consumption in 2007 was used to produce food. The USDA has also said that 27% of available food was wasted in 1995, the last time that such a study was conducted, and that percentage does not include food wasted on farms and in fisheries and during processing.

As the researchers point out, given the increase in population since 1995 along with the inevitable growth in food production and consumption, the current amount of food waste is likely to be higher both relatively and absolutely. The energy embedded in this food waste therefore represents a major opportunity for avoided energy consumption, say the researchers. Critics of the drive towards the substitution of fossil fuels by biofuels who condemn bioethanol production on the basis of its use of food crops are remarkably quiet about the loss of food through wastage, either deliberate or accidental. And biofuel producers have certainly begun to look at all other types of feedstock streams for their processes. Isn’t time to call a truce and focus on solving the real issues that we all face?

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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