With a reported 800 million people worldwide suffering from either chronic malnutrition or hunger, it’s time for organizations, industry, governments, and consumers to work together to end this humanitarian crisis.
On December 10, 1964 social activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. commented during his acceptance speech for the award of his Nobel Peace Prize, that he had “the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
Fast forward some 50 years, the issue of chronic hunger or malnutrition is still very much rife within global societies and has in fact been on the rise since 2014. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)'s 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition Report, a staggering 800 million people are reportedly suffering from chronic hunger or malnutrition; that's equivalent to one person in nine.
This social injustice is not exclusive to third-world countries. Figures from UK charity Trussel Trust show that from 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018, just over 1.3 million three-day emergency food supplies were delivered to people in crisis across the UK – a 13% increase on last year. And according to a new report by the Food Research & Action Center, “How Hungry is America?”, after several years of decline, the national food hardship rate for all households in the US increased from 15.1% in 2016 to 15.7% in 2017.
What is shocking about this situation is that we do indeed have enough food on this planet to feed everyone but nearly a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amount to roughly US $680 billion in industrialized countries and US $310 billion in developing countries, or nearly US $1 trillion in total.
It is estimated that around 40% of production can be lost before a product ever reaches the market.
Action on Food Waste
From farm to table to boardroom, the scourge of hunger is a shared global problem that no one individual, organization or industry can solve. Ahead of us are numerous interconnected global challenges, as food loss and waste amount to a major squandering of resources. These include water, land, energy, labor and capital, and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), contributing to global warming and climate change. But we can solve it, together.
Reducing food waste and loss is a major part of the solution. Food waste happens throughout the entire food supply chain from field to fridge. Inefficiencies and bureaucracy in the food system result in:
- crops being tilled under and lost in the production process;
managerial and antiquated agricultural harvesting techniques mean other crops are overproduced;
retailers that have overabundance built into operation models;
lack of an ethical and well-managed vendor supply chain; and
behaviors of consumers, who have a huge part to play – individual consumers who buy food with the best intentions, only to have it sitting there spoiling in the back of the refrigerator way after it's use-by date.
To help to reduce the amount of food and waste, organizations should look to strengthen the supply chain through the direct support of farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, harvesting, cooling and packaging methods. As well as improving communication between producers and consumers to manage the supply chain more efficiently.
Beyond improving losses of crops on farms due to poor practices, doing more to better balance production with demand would mean not using natural resources to produce unneeded food in the first place.
Food Waste and Climate Change
Aside from the social, economic, and moral implications of food waste, the environmental cost of producing all that food, for nothing, is staggering.
Reducing food waste is one of the most important things we can do to tackle climate change. The energy that goes into the production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of wasted food generates 7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), more than 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
UK-based charity WRAP estimates that by 2030 global GHGs could be lowered by at least 0.2 billion tons and possibly as much as 1 billion tons CO2 per year through food waste reductions, which it states is more than the annual emissions of Germany.
To put this into perspective, look at all the metal cans, plastic bags and cardboard boxes our food comes in. By throwing away half a mac and cheese, half of the emissions that resulted from producing and processing, packaging, shipping, storing, picking up and cooking are also wasted.
In addition, we need to consider the amount of water wastage. Farming uses 70% of our freshwater; what's more, according to a UN report, food that is produced but not eaten guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Europe's largest river, Russia's Volga River.
Reducing food wastage represents one of the greatest possibilities for consumers, organizations and governments to contribute to reversing global warming, increase economic benefits and preserve threatened ecosystems, and at the same time take a little step closer to realizing Dr. King's belief – feeding everyone.
Know to Grow, Grow to Know
Whether it's industry, retailers, consumers, or governments we can all play our part and do better when it comes to decreasing food wastage.
For governments and organizations alike, they can enact food safety standards where they don't exist – jump-starting a system to properly transport and store perishable foods, ensuring that more food is safe for consumption. The food industry needs to look at implementing and formalizing an approach to food traceability and total transparency with its suppliers. By introducing vendor risk management solutions as part of a strategic approach to risk management, an organization can significantly reduce the risk that third parties introduce into its business.
The industry also needs to leverage innovative and scalable technologies not just within food production but also by implementing emissions management software as part of a robust environmental health and safety program. And through the use of learning management systems, we can introduce education programs to raise awareness of the impacts of food wastage both internally and externally.
And then there is us – the consumers. Each and everyone of us can take small steps that ultimately accumulate to make a meaningful difference. First step being for us to stop buying too much and throwing away the excess. A small change, but yet one that will yield big results.
As FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva commented: “All of us – farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers – must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can't.
We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 800 million people go hungry every day,” he added.