Global food: Waste not, want not

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click image to zoomMeeting global food challenges was the primary topic at the International Food and Agriculture Marketing Association meeting. Tim Fox says better food management and societal changes are needed.

“The world’s population will grow by 150,000 people daily for the next 40 years,” says James Borel, Executive Vice President at DuPont. “To feed them, we’ll need 70 percent more safe, nutritious food.”

But do we really need that much more food? Or do we need better utilization of the food already being produced?

The answer is likely both, but if governments and people are able to better utilize food, it will certainly reduce the amount of “new” land, water and other resources needed to feed a greatly expanded population.

Tim Fox, head of Energy and Environment for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the United Kingdom, sheds new light on how much additional food we really need in the 21st Century. He spoke during the International Food and Agriculture Marketing Association (IFAMA) annual meeting in Atlanta, Geo., as did Borel.

“With the knowledge we have today in the engineering practice community, we can meet many of the challenges facing us now,” says Fox.

The solutions, in large part, lie in minimizing food waste, both in developed countries as well as emerging/developing countries.

“Do the basic math,” says Fox. “If we can feed 6 billion people on 2 to 2.8 billion tons of food, we should be able to feed 9 to 10 billion people on a little more than 4 billion tons. If we’re presently wasting 30 to 50 percent of the food we produce, and we identify ways to minimize that loss, not only can we feed more people on what is already being produced, but we can radically reduce pressure on water, energy and land-use as well.”

Better Resource Management

Food loss is happening in developing and emerging economies due to poor harvesting techniques, inadequately engineered storage and transportation infrastructure. In fact, Fox says 40 percent of losses are a result of poorly engineered storage (21 million tons of wheat annually in India and 3.2 million tons annually in Pakistan).

“The cascading demand on energy associated with the water and food that is wasted has an enormous impact,” asserts Fox.

In developed countries with “mature” economies, it’s a mentality of excess, including over-purchasing (think big-box stores), consumer behavior related to portion size, leftovers and “imperfect” food,  and hospitality industry procurement practices (“At least 40 percent of the food we were served for lunch went back to the kitchen as waste,” says Fox).

Obviously, these are “fixable” problems, but they require dramatic shifts in consumer attitudes, buying habits and behaviors. In developed economies, consumers need to “reconnect with the value of food,” says Fox.

“This is not rocket science,” he adds. “In terms of developing/emerging nations, we need to facilitate a clean technology ‘leapfrog’ over the resource-hungry unsustainable phase of industrialization, to avoid our previous failures and mistakes. Reducing food wastage and losses could significantly help meet the challenges of food security for 9.5 billion people by the late 21st Century.”

“The path forward, really, is to make sure people have the competence level and technical knowledge along with the experiential knowledge,” says Sunny Ramaswamy, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA. “It’s not something new that we need to be inventing – it’s a look back to the future.”


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