Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


What a waste: Good food becomes waste before it is eaten

pub­lished 12 Jan­u­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 18 Decem­ber 2016

In its report ‘Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not’ the Insti­tu­tion of Mechan­i­cal Engi­neers shows what evo­lu­tion of Homo sapi­ens has achieved so far. Since we set­tled down in ham­lets and had the patience to grow crops, thou­sands of years ago, the human race has evolved into a species that man­ages to let good food become waste.

Recently the Insti­tu­tion of Mechan­i­cal Engi­neers in the UK reported that as much as 50% of all food pro­duced around the world never reaches a human stom­ach due to issues as var­ied as inad­e­quate infra­struc­ture and stor­age facil­i­ties through to overly strict sell-​by dates, buy-​one-​get-​one free offers and con­sumers demand­ing cos­met­i­cally per­fect food.
(from the report ‘Global Food; Waste Not,Want Not’)

In fact, this way we are wast­ing valu­able arable land. For instance land that is reclaimed from the Ama­zon ecosys­tems and is cul­ti­vated by ‘slash and burn’ activ­i­ties to pro­duce feed for the mass meat pro­duc­tion else­where. Meat, or ani­mal pro­teins it is some­times called, that is des­per­ately needed in coun­tries with a pop­u­la­tion that is increas­ing in size and affluence.

The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is stag­ger­ing. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion — as well as those in hunger today. It is also an unnec­es­sary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of this food
Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Envi­ron­ment at the Insti­tu­tion of Mechan­i­cal Engi­neers »

When the global human pop­u­la­tion increased and demanded more and more food, our evolved brains were very use­ful. Ded­i­cated inven­tions and inno­va­tions led to great solu­tions, such as increased yields by improved crops, bet­ter (auto­mated) har­vest­ing tech­niques, and fer­tilis­ers. So, after the indus­trial and green rev­o­lu­tion we had enor­mously increased our food pro­duc­tion, but also cre­ated large urban areas. Unfor­tu­nately, it turns out that we for­got about the logis­tics and human greed and expec­ta­tions.

The ongo­ing urban­i­sa­tion led to huge cities with­out arable land to pro­duce suf­fi­cient food to feed the cit­i­zens. So, local pro­duce don’t really mean it has been pro­duced locally any­more, it has been trans­ported over con­sid­er­able dis­tances.

I am not really sure if greed is a trait that came with human evo­lu­tion, but at least it is a side effect and many mod­ern west­ern peo­ple show signs of this ‘only the best is good for us’ and ‘more is bet­ter’ atti­tude. And for some strange rea­son we want every­thing cheap, includ­ing or per­haps espe­cially our food, even if we have more money to spend. Unfor­tu­nately, this led to very inten­sive ani­mal farm­ing with in gen­eral impaired ani­mal wel­fare.

foodwaste.infographicIn addi­tion rich west­ern con­sumers demand to have access to all exotic vari­eties of fresh food since we tasted all those exotic fruits in far­away places. Places we could travel to by another inven­tion, the aero­plane, which made every sin­gle one of us a globe-​trotter and con­sider him­self a real ‘Liv­ing­stone’. But many of these exotic foods can only be pro­duced in exotic places, which leads to another trans­port and logis­tics issue. Or we start pro­duc­ing them in a region that is cli­mat­i­cally not fit-​for-​purpose, which requires green­houses and a lot of fos­sil fuels to cre­ate the right con­di­tions to grow these foods.

Then there is this thing beyond imag­i­na­tion which is called the rejec­tion of food on the basis of cos­metic char­ac­ter­is­tics. This means that we throw away food already at pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties, just because it does not have the cor­rect phys­i­cal appear­ance, such as the wrong curve of a banana, apples being the wrong shape, too big or too small, or a bent cucum­ber. In Brus­sels — EU head­quar­ters — they even have devised stan­dards to ensure that farm pro­duce looks the same across the whole Euro­pean Union, e.g. apples, nutri­tional value is not tak­ing into account.

Unfor­tu­nately, our great minds were not that evolved that they fore­saw what the effect would be of the great inven­tions and devel­op­ments. Now we see that some­times logis­tics fail, and that we became too much depen­dent on trans­port (fos­sil fuels). As a result some­times the foods avail­able in the super­mar­ket are not that fresh any­more and have a shorter shelf life. On the other hand food is offered some­times that cheap or via ‘buy one-​get-​one free’ offers that it can eas­ily lead to a consumer’s refrig­er­a­tor that is over­stocked. Final result: good food becomes waste.

So, with the pre­dic­tions of the United Nations that there could be about an extra three bil­lion peo­ple to feed by the end of the cen­tury and an increas­ing pres­sure on the resources needed to pro­duce food, includ­ing land, water and energy, the Insti­tu­tion is call­ing for urgent action to tackle this waste.

The report ‘Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not’ found that:

between 30% and 50% or 1.22 bil­lion tonnes of food pro­duced around the world each year never reaches a human stom­ach;

as much as 30% of UK veg­etable crops are not har­vested due to them fail­ing to meet exact­ing stan­dards based on their phys­i­cal appear­ance, while up to half of the food that’s bought in Europe and the USA is thrown away by the con­sumer;

about 550 bil­lion m3 of water is wasted glob­ally in grow­ing crops that never reach the con­sumer;

it takes 2050 times the amount of water to pro­duce 1 kilo­gram of meat than 1 kilo­gram of veg­eta­bles;

the demand for water in food pro­duc­tion could reach 1013 tril­lion m3 a year by 2050. This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today and could lead to more dan­ger­ous water short­ages around the world;

there is the poten­tial to pro­vide 60100% more food by elim­i­nat­ing losses and waste while at the same time free­ing up land, energy and water resources.

When you look at these find­ings there is cer­tainly a need for urgent action. Hope­fully, it will not be too late, con­sid­er­ing what Tim Fox, one of the authors of the report said:

“As water, land and energy resources come under increas­ing pres­sure from com­pet­ing human demands, engi­neers have a cru­cial role to play in pre­vent­ing food loss and waste by devel­op­ing more effi­cient ways of grow­ing, trans­port­ing and stor­ing foods. But in order for this to hap­pen Gov­ern­ments, devel­op­ment agen­cies and organ­i­sa­tion like the UN must work together to help change people’s mind­sets on waste and dis­cour­age waste­ful prac­tices by farm­ers, food pro­duc­ers, super­mar­kets and con­sumers.”

Accord­ing the report, by improv­ing processes and infra­struc­ture as well as chang­ing con­sumer mind­sets, we would have the abil­ity to pro­vide 60100% more food to feed the world’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. But we will have to do it NOW, oth­er­wise we evolved into extinction.

* Tris­tram Stu­art illus­trates it all with his infor­ma­tive and inspir­ing TED Talk ‘The global food waste scan­dal’:
West­ern coun­tries throw out nearly half of their food, not because it’s ined­i­ble — but because it doesn’t look appeal­ing. Tris­tram Stu­art delves into the shock­ing data of wasted food, call­ing for a more respon­si­ble use of global resources. He sounds the warn­ing bell on global food waste, call­ing for us to change the sys­tems whereby large quan­ti­ties of pro­duce and other foods end up in trash heaps. His book titled ‘Waste — uncov­er­ing the global food scan­dal’ is absolutely worth read­ing.

* And UNEP (United Nations Envi­ron­ment Pro­gramme) has recently launched this video to sup­port their Food Waste cam­paign, with the mes­sage ‘A third of the world’s food is lost and wasted. Let’s start to Think.Eat.Save.’:

(Source: Insti­tu­tion of Mechan­i­cal Engi­neers media release, 10.01.2013; TED Talk by Tris­tram Stu­art, Sep­tem­ber 2012; UNEP YouTube chan­nel, 13.06.2013)

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