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Monitoring food loss and waste essential to hunger fight

FAO at Green Global Growth Forum in Copenhagen calls for “innovative thinking” to measure and cut global food loss and waste along the food chain

Photo: ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri
Workers in a food processing plant.

21 October 2013, Copenhagen/Rome - Keeping track of the enormity and nature of food loss and waste is essential to reducing the problem and to speeding efforts to eliminate hunger globally, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told participants at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) in Copenhagen.

"FAO estimates that each year, one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted - around 1.3 billion tons. This costs around 750 billion dollars annually. If we reduce food loss and waste to zero it would give us additional food to feed 2 billion people," Graziano da Silva said.

Graziano da Silva joined leaders of partner agencies at the 21-22 October forum in discussing plans for a new global standard for measuring food loss and waste announced at 3GF by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

"One of my priorities in FAO is opening our doors to potential allies. Fighting food loss and waste is clearly one area in which partnership is needed. Developing a global protocol can help provide clear measurements and indicators on which we can base guidance on how to reduce food loss and waste," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Most food loss takes place in post-production, harvesting, transportation and storage, and is primarily related to inadequate infrastructure in developing countries, while food waste is largely a problem in the marketing and consumption stages in more developed countries.

"Zeroing food loss and waste is one of the elements of the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Rio+20 Conference last year. Because of all this, FAO has a huge vested interest in bringing about rapid reductions in food losses and waste," Graziano da Silva said, "specifically in relation to improving the efficiency and inclusiveness of our food systems."

"We already know a lot about how to cut food losses. But we need to invest more in a number of areas, especially in infrastructure such as roads and cold chains, but also improving market information. We also need to close the gap between the knowledge we have and what farmers and other actors in the food chain are actually doing. When we do that, we see good results," he said.

On food waste that occurs at the consumer end, Graziano da Silva called for more "innovative thinking" to keep retailers and individual households from throwing away food.

"Per capita consumer waste is around 100 kilograms in Europe and North America per year. In Africa, it is less than 10 kilograms a year per person," he said, adding, "We can do a lot from the local to the global levels, from producers to consumers, from personal choices to policy decisions that create an enabling environment to reduce food waste and loss."

"And with regards to food waste, it is also important to take into consideration that different cultures have different culinary traditions. We must take this into consideration," he stressed.

Graziano da Silva urged participants to maintain their commitment to working with producers, consumers, retailers, governments and international organizations to reduce food loss and waste, keeping in mind cultural differences that could influence choices.

Taking action

FAO works on numerous initiatives to reduce the loss of food in the agricultural process and throughout the food system from field to fork.

FAO launched the SAVE FOOD initiative together with the United Nations Environment Programme and Messe Dusseldorf to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption. SAVE FOOD now includes more than 150 public organizations and private sector partners and is currently conducting case studies on food losses in specific chains that will help us give guidance on strategies to upgrade the sectors concerned.

The organization also collaborates with UNEP,  WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and other partners in the Think.Eat.Save. campaign designed to target and change wasteful practices, especially at the retail and consumer end of the food-supply chain.

FAO is also beginning work on a food loss index and, through its Global Strategy for Improving Rural and Agricultural Statistics, the organization is developing assessment methodologies for obtaining post-harvest loss data that feeds into national statistics.

While in Copenhagen, the FAO Director-General also met with Danish government ministers, including Minister for Development Christian Friis Bach; Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Karen Angelo Hækkerup; and, Denmark's Minister for the Environment, Ida Margrete Meier Auken.