If the amount of food wasted around the world were reduced by just 25% there would be enough food to feed all the people who are malnourished, according to the UN. Reducing food wastage would ease the burden on resources as the world attempts to meet future demand.
Each year 1.3bn tonnes of food, about a third of all that is produced, is wasted, including about 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat. Meanwhile, 795 million people suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition.
In developed countries, consumers and retailers throw away between 30% and 40% of all food purchased, whereas in poorer countries only 5% to 16% of food is thrown away. According to a 2011 report, in Europe and North America each person wasted 95-115kg of otherwise edible food annually, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa and south and south-east Asia the equivalent waste was just 6-11kg.
“In the developing world, food waste is virtually nonexistent,” says Robert van Otterdijk, coordinator of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Save Food programme. “Food waste is happening in countries where people can afford to throw away food. One statistic is that the amount of food wasted by consumers in industrialised countries [222m tonnes a year] is almost the same as the total net food production of sub-Saharan Africa [230m tonnes].
Food loss, on the other hand, are really rampant in developing countries because of the underdeveloped conditions they have, from management of production to transportation and distribution.
The environmental impact of food loss and waste is high. The carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2, meaning that if food waste were a country it would rank as the third highest national emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China. About 1.4bn hectares, or close to 30% of available agricultural land, is used to grow or farm food that is subsequently wasted. And more surface and groundwater, or “blue water”, is used to produce wasted food around the globe than is used for agriculture by any single country, including India and China.
Van Otterdijk explains “Production of food is one of the biggest production sectors in the world, and if one-third of all this is just produced in vain you can imagine what a huge impact this has on the natural resources – on land, water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions.”
In the UK, 15m tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year. British consumers throw away 4.2m tonnes of edible food each year, equivalent in weight to 86 QE2s. This means that 11.7% of all food purchased is avoidably wasted.
The ironic thing is that even if all this extra food is available through the end of food waste at both the consumption and production ends will not benefit those in poverty since they still won’t be able to afford to buy it. “Can’t Pay, Don’t Get.” That’s the way the capitalist market system works. That is the way to-day’s world is run. Can you imagine a world truly free from poverty and hunger in all its forms everywhere? The World Socialist Movement can. There is an obvious solution: produce food directly for people to eat. But, first, the land and all the rest of the world’s resources, industrial as well as natural, will have to stop being the private property of rich individuals, multinational corporations and states and become the common heritage of all humanity. On this basis enough food could rapidly be produced to eliminate starvation immediately and, within a few years, to provide every man, woman and child on the planet with an adequate diet. And that is the sane rational and equitable society the WSM advocates and works towards.