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Ugly food part of worldwide food waste problem

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 2:36 p.m. MST

Spoiled strawberries head down a sink garbage disposal. Studies say Americans waste up to 25 percent of the food they buy every year.

Michael De Groote, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A BBC article about a new food study found that "as much as half of the world's food, amounting to two billion tons, is wasted. Its study claims that up to 30 percent of vegetables in the U.K. were not harvested because of their physical appearance. ... The report said that between 30 percent and 50 percent of the four billion tons of food produced around the world each year went to waste."

The report, "Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not," from The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says the waste is due to everything from bad storage practices to people just not wanting to buy ugly fruit or vegetables.

The report says: "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. … Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tons of food waste annually in this way. Of the produce that does appear in the supermarket, commonly used sales promotions frequently encourage customers to purchase excessive quantities, which, in the case of perishable foodstuffs, inevitably generates wastage in the home."

Brad Plumer for the Washington Post says: "Not only is it a waste of energy and water and land, but it's a tragedy in its own right, given that some 870 million people suffer from chronic malnourishment.

"On the plus side, this is a problem that can be tackled. For poorer countries, simply building better food-storage buildings could cut down massively on waste in places like Pakistan or Ghana (which lost 50 percent of its stored maize in 2008). Better harvesting technology and techniques could also help, although the report suggests that some nations like India will need more sweeping societal and political changes to cut down on waste."

This isn't the first study to look at food waste. An article in the Deseret News reported: "A 2004 study by Timothy W. Jones, who was an anthropologist at the University of Arizona at the time, put the national food waste figure (including all the food wasted in production, food manufacturing, restaurants, etc.) between 40 and 50 percent. He found households waste 14 percent of their food purchases."

More recently, another Deseret News article reported the findings of the Natural Resources Defense Council: "Approximately 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted, as about $165 billion in uneaten food is thrown out every year, according to the NRDC. That's a 50 percent jump since the 1970s."

Ira Sager at Bloomberg/Businessweek admits to not conserving food: "I am not alone in my wasteful habits. I live in the United States of Food Waste. On average, my fellow citizens throw away 20 pounds of food each month, which amounts to $2,275 a year for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Andrew Gunther, program director at Animal Welfare Approved, wrote on his blog at Huffington Post: "But it's not just simply the food that's going to waste: think about all the wasted energy, water, chemicals and labor that went into producing, transporting and storing what is ultimately just left to rot."

And Gunther talks about the obese and the hungry around the world and how the food industry thinks the problem of hunger should be solved: "In response to concerns about how we can feed the world's growing population, which is predicted to reach nine billion by 2050, the industrial food lobby has misleadingly claimed that we urgently need to double food production. They argue that the only way we can hope to feed the world is by further intensifying agricultural production, with more agrochemicals, the global uptake of GM (genetically modified) crops and a dramatic increase in intensively farmed livestock — methods which happen to be highly profitable for their promoters. Yet people are waking up to the fact that food security is not simply about producing "more" of the same food, as those with vested interests would like us to believe. … The consensus is that we need to find ways of farming that not only produce sufficient quantities of the right kinds of food, grown in the right places, but which also minimize greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts associated with intensive farming practices. In other words, we not only need to reduce the amount of food we currently waste, but we also need to dramatically improve our high-calorie, high-processed, high-waste Western diet — a diet which is literally killing us and destroying our planet."

"As a country, we're essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path — that's money and precious resources down the drain," said Dana Gunders, NRDC project scientist, in a Deseret News article. "With the price of food continuing to grow, and drought jeopardizing farmers nationwide, now is the time to embrace all the tremendous untapped opportunities to get more out of our food system. We can do better."

At least one commenter out of more than 1,000 on the BBC article isn't too upset about the waste. "Neil" wrote: "The general populace buys too much food, which maintains the prices (for farmers), which means that it makes economical sense for farmers to keep growing food (but they still need subsidies). If we were eating 99 percent of the food that is produced, what would happen if there was a couple of bad harvests? The waste is required. This is why the west has had no famines since WW2."

Neil's comments, however, were not appreciated by many, judging from the negative votes he received in the BBC comments rating system.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com, Twitter: @degroote, Facebook: facebook.com/madegroote

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