Fifth of world's food lost to over-eating and waste, study finds

February 21, 2017, University of Edinburgh
Credit: Jm Verastigue/public domain

Almost 20 per cent of the food made available to consumers is lost through over-eating or waste, a study suggests.

The world population consumes around 10 per cent more food than it needs, while almost nine per cent is thrown away or left to spoil, researchers say.

Efforts to reduce the billions of tonnes lost could improve global - ensuring everyone has access to a safe, affordable, nutritious diet - and help prevent damage to the environment, the team says.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh examined ten key stages in the global food system - including food consumption and the growing and harvesting of crops - to quantify the extent of losses.

Using data collected primarily by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the team found that more food is lost from the system than was previously thought.

Almost half of harvested crops - or 2.1 billion tonnes - are lost through over-consumption, consumer waste and inefficiencies in production processes, researchers say.

Livestock production is the least efficient process, with losses of 78 per cent or 840 million tonnes, the team found. Some 1.08 billion tonnes of harvested crops are used to produce 240 million tonnes of edible including meat, milk and eggs.

This stage alone accounts for 40 per cent of all losses of harvested crops, researchers say.

Increased demand for some foods, particularly meat and dairy products, would decrease the efficiency of the food system and could make it difficult to feed the world's expanding population in sustainable ways, researchers say.

Meeting this demand could cause by increasing , depleting water supplies and causing loss of biodiversity.

Encouraging people to eat fewer animal products, reduce waste and not exceed their nutritional needs could help to reverse these trends, the team says.

The study is published in the journal Agricultural Systems. It was carried out in collaboration with Scotland's Rural College, University of York, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research.

The research was funded through a Global Food Security Programme supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government.

Dr. Peter Alexander, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences and Scotland's Rural College, who led the study, said: "Reducing losses from the global would improve food security and help prevent environmental harm. Until now, it was not known how over-eating impacts on the system. Not only is it harmful to health, we found that over-eating is bad for the environment and impairs food security."

Professor Dominic Moran, of the University of York, who was involved in the study, said: "This study highlights that food security has production and consumption dimensions that need to be considered when designing sustainable systems. It also highlights that the definition of waste can mean different things to different people."

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Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Feb 21, 2017
The world population consumes around 10 per cent more food than it needs, while almost nine per cent is thrown away or left to spoil, researchers say.


That's not bad overall. 9% loss through spoilage is pretty close to what it optimally can be, and 10% over-eating is also generally speaking very low.

Trying to minimize the two factors would most likely become more expensive than the loss itself, because the difficulty of doing so shoots exponentially up to infinity as you approach 100% efficiency. Of course individual nations could do a lot better than they are and save a bunch.

Almost half of harvested crops - or 2.1 billion tonnes - are lost through over-consumption, consumer waste and inefficiencies in production processes, researchers say.


If people ate the "lost" crops instead - which is mostly grains, corn, soy, etc. they'd get pretty sick for nutrient deficiency. Feeding it to animals turns it into a more valuable product, which isn't a loss.

Eikka
not rated yet Feb 21, 2017
The question of meat is moot, because the crops don't directly substitute the meat as food. Of course it's possible to subsist on a vegan diet, but not by substituting meat with just more corn or wheat or potatoes. That'll just make you ill.

You need nuts and legumes and salads, fruits, berries... because meat just so happens to be a convenient concentrated source of various different nutrients. In many places it's not even possible to grow the variety of foods for a healthy vegan diet, and the people would have to chew on turnips half the year without expensive imports from half way across the globe.

Besides, the article isn't even counting the massive amounts of subsidized crops that go into biofuel production. There you get a 100% loss because the end result isn't edible.
big_hairy_jimbo
not rated yet Feb 22, 2017
I always wonder about the efficiency of bio fuels. To grow crops you need fertilisers. Those fertilisers are often made using energy intensive industrial processing. So is a Bio-Fuel really a good alternative? When you look at the WHOLE system, I would suggest not.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 23, 2017
I always wonder about the efficiency of bio fuels.


Depends on the fuel. Corn ethanol is almost energy-negative, while sugar cane derived ethanol in the tropics is estimated to return 8-9:1 which makes it a pretty good deal - if you don't count the deforestation and agricultural runoff into the ecosystem.

FactsReallyMatter
1 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2017
The massive subsidies for bio-fuel has kicked sheep off marginal land to seed corn. Can you imagine? Sheep were barely surviving, now someone is seeding corn. I say seed, because it certainly doesn't grow.
howhot3
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2017
Sounds like mr. Fatty (ie; Mr. Facts...) knows his stuff. If I was stupid, I would agree with him. But then once a BOZO, always a BOZO and we know @Mr FactsReallyMatter is a heavy weight BOZO.
So "The massive subsidies for bio-fuel has kicked sheep off marginal land to seed corn." All one can say from that is you don't like corn but you love to eat sheep. But you a goon climate denier too, so through that in to the mix.

FactsReallyMatter
4 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2017
You should really seek help!

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