FAO projects that, under current production and consumption trends, global food production must increase 60% by 2050 in order to meet the demands of the growing world population. Yet, more than one third of the food produced today is lost or wasted. Food loss refers to the decrease in edible food mass at the production, post-harvest and processing stages of the food chain, mostly in developing countries. Food waste, a symptom of developed countries' consumeristic lifestyles, refers to the discard of foods at the retail and consumer levels. This food wastage represents a missed opportunity to food security and comes at a steep environmental price.
In avoiding food wastage, there is actually more that would be gained by its reduction than a mere reduction in its ‘footprint’. For instance, more efficient systems that reduce either losses or waste would likely result in additionally reduced GHG emissions, in part directly, since wastage typically generates methane emissions during food disposal, as well as indirectly, given that reducing wastage may lead to critical redesign of supply chains and retail models, which may result in less energy use along the food chain, and thus associated GHG emissions. Generally, less wastage is associated with more efficiency and eventually more effective recycling of resources and less transport and storage needs across long distances - all leading to savings in natural capital, less resource use and lower GHG emissions. With regards increased food security, including availability, access and utilization, reducing wastage can also be achieved by reducing certain loss factors, for instance, by increasing local supplies in Least Developed Countries or by promoting programmes where the food saved from an otherwise waste pathway in retailing is specifically accounted for and used as food aid.
To date, no study has analyzed the environmental impact of global food wastage. FAO intends to produce the first global Food Wastage Footprint (FWF) in order to quantify the impact of the food grown, but not eaten - both loss and waste - on the environment and the economy, with a view to assist decision-making along the food chain.
The purpose of the FWF project to provide, as complete and accurate as possible, a picture of the environmental footprint of global food wastage, with a particular emphasis on impacts on soil, water, biodiversity, and climate change. The aim is to bring more precision to the debate on the environmental impacts of food wastage, by providing a more consistent knowledge base, which can be used to underpin future policy debate in this area (see Concept Note 1).
- Best practices are collected through a public database where organizations and individual experts with expertise on food wastage contribute by directly inputing into the Database;
The second phase of the FWF project is currently defining methods for the economic valuation of environmental and social costs of food wastage. Forecast scenarios will detail how trimming wastage by given ratios would affect the current FWF and the estimated need to increase food production by 60% in 2050. The project will also analyze how specific food systems would need to be redesigned (marginally or drastically), depending on the wastage reduction targets and investments (see Concept Note 2).
An E-Forum on full-cost accounting of food wastage has been held from 21 October to 24 November 2013. Although 245 persons registered, discussions confirmed the methodological challenges involved in full-cost accounting. The FWF project is currently attempting to monetize the environmental impact of food wastage, but more expert knowledge is needed for a comprehensive FCA methodology. To this end, FAO will invite selected experts to a workshop in early 2014.
The ultimate objective of this project is to communicate that investments in food wastage reduction is the most logical step in the pursuit of sustainable production and consumption, including food security, climate change and other adverse environmental effects. To this end, public awareness materials targeting different stakeholders (e.g. consumers, companies, researchers, policy-makers) will be developed.