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Governments should tell retailers to cut food waste

By Mike Stones , 11-Jan-2013
Last updated on 11-Jan-2013 at 09:20 GMT

Governments in developed nations should tell retailers not to reject foods on the basis of appearance, in a bid to prevent half of all food ending up as waste, according to a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) .

The report recommended governments should devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations.

“These should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers,” it said.

Major supermarkets

“Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance.”

Up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Worldwide, retailers generate 1.6Mt of food waste through cosmetic rejections.

Other sources of waste in developed nations include overly strict sell-by dates and buy-one-get-one-free offers.

In developing nations inadequate infrastructure and storage facilities contribute to waste.

The report, Global Food Waste Not Want Not , claimed that between 30% and 50% or 1.2‒2bn tonnes of annual global food production never reaches a human stomach.

In developed nations the same percentages of food are thrown away by shoppers after purchase.

Food manufacturers and the government-funded Waste & Resources Action Plan (WRAP) both welcomed the report.

The Food and Drink Federation’s director of sustainability, Andrew Kuyk said: “The IMechE’s report is a useful contribution to highlighting the challenges facing the global food system – where we waste resources producing food which never gets eaten, while millions of people suffer from poor or inadequate diets.”

Disgarding food wastes everything that went into making it – including water, energy and labour – while also impacting on the environment, he added.

“We, as food manufacturers, are trying hard to do what we can to find solutions, for example by improving packaging and extending shelf-life, not least because we want our products to be eaten and enjoyed.”

But the problem needs to be tackled by society as a whole, he said.

Dr Liz Goodwin, ceo, WRAP, said: “I was not surprised (and in fact, reassured) to see so much thoughtful coverage today of the critically-important issue of global food waste – a top priority for WRAP.”

‘Wasting money, resources, water and energy’

Goodwin added: “Wasting food means we’re wasting money, resources, water and energy, and all at a time when so many millions across the world are starving.”

The Love Food Hate Waste and other initiatives, has helped UK households cut food waste from 8.3Mt a year to 7.2Mt, she said.

“Of this, 4.4Mt is avoidable food waste,” said Goodwin. “This avoidable food waste has a value of £12bn per year, and is costing the average family £480 every year.

“Given the current economic climate, getting more from the food we buy and making the household budget go further are even more important to us all.”

She attributed UK food waste to consumers cooking too much, or allowing food to go off, lack of planning, misunderstanding date labels, getting portion sizes wrong and lack of knowledge of how to store food to keep it fresher for longer, and how to use leftovers.

Report recommendations

1 “The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation should work with the international engineering community to ensure governments of developed nations put in place programmes that transfer engineering knowledge, design know-how, and suitable technology to newly developing countries. This will help improve produce handling in the harvest, and immediate post-harvest stages of food production.

2 “Governments of rapidly developing countries incorporate waste minimisation thinking into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities currently being planned, engineered and built.

3 “Governments in developed nations devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations. These should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers.”

Source: IME

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