Canada Wastes More Than Half Its Food

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Public Domain. MaxPixel – Moldy grapes

Most of the waste happens at the processing stage, not in people's homes.

More than half of all food produced in Canada goes to waste. A shocking new study, coming out today, has revealed that the level of food waste is far worse than previously thought, estimated at 58 percent. Of that, the vast majority (85 percent) is attributed to food processors. This differs from earlier studies, which blamed households for driving food waste and said they were responsible for 51 percent of food waste.

The study was conducted by Martin Hooch, chief executive of Value Chain Management International, and, according to the Globe and Mail, the leading expert on food waste in Canada and the author of several previous studies on the subject. Reflecting on the study's findings, Hooch said,

"It means stop blaming consumers. Sure, consumers are part of the problem. But they’re not the problem."

The Globe explains how Hooch's previous work had assessed the monetary value of food waste, rather than the actual volume by weight. Even the Food and Agriculture Organization's earlier work failed to include meats and grains in its calculations. In the past Hooch didn't have access to good data, particularly from the private sector, but relied on numbers collected by the food industry for purposes other than tracking waste.

This time, however, Hooch worked directly with companies at all stages along the food production chain and interviewed over 700 experts in the industry. Apparently he found it hard to believe what he was seeing:

"I kept saying to our team, 'It can’t be that high. Let’s re-run the numbers,' he said. But 'the more people we spoke with, the more we came to realize that no, this [58 per cent] number is actually quite conservative.'"

This is what they found: Food processing generates 34 percent of food waste. This is followed by production, which generates 24 percent. Next is manufacturing at 13 percent, then hotels/restaurants/institutions at 9 percent. Households contribute only 14 percent, retail 4 percent, and distributors 2 percent. Contributing factors include aesthetics (not wanting to sell/buy imperfect produce) and confusion about best-before dates.

This should be a serious wake-up call for Canadians – and others around the world who would do well to examine their own food supply chains. Food waste is costly, not only in terms of dollars wasted, but also in resources like land, water, and fertilizer. To be using these resources and squandering the product is totally irresponsible and unnecessary.

To make matters worse, when food is thrown into landfill, which the vast majority is, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. At Canada's rate of food waste, that's like adding 12 million cars to the road.

It looks like the food industry has some major redesigning ahead, and let's hope the government holds them accountable. Read the full Globe report here.