Study Finds Half of All Food Produced Worldwide is Wasted

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Image from sporkist

And you thought $20 billion worth of wasted food was a lot. According to a new policy brief issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Stockholm International Water Institute and the International Water Management Institute, huge amounts of food -- close to half of all food produced worldwide -- are wasted after production.

The current food crisis we are facing is not one of production, the authors argue, but one of waste. These large quantities of wasted food translate into equally large amounts of wasted water (think "virtual water"); Charlotte de Fraiture, a researcher at IWMI, told ENS that almost half of the water consumed annually to grow food is lost or wasted.

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Anybody who has ever eaten at a buffet or gone to a supermarket knows how much food we waste on a regular basis. You needn't be a devoted freegan to appreciate just how much of the food we throw away is still in near-pristine condition. As if wasting all that food weren't bad enough, one can only imagine the vast quantities water that get frittered away worldwide during production (too much). In the U.S. alone, around 40 trillion liters of water (roughly the amount needed to produce 30% of the country's food), enough to supply the needs of 500 million families, are lost every year.

Many of the report's recommendations border on the obvious: improve water productivity, curb wasteful eating habits and optimize food production, to name just a few. Another good idea would be to use water labeling for food products -- so people know how much water went into producing their beef (2,500 gallons per pound, at last count) or favorite cereal, for instance.

In their conclusion, the authors call on the global community to reduce the amount of wasted food and water by half by 2025 -- a readily achievable goal, they say. By some accounts, there is more than enough water available for everyone provided it is well-managed. Mongabay's Jeremy Hance reports:

But what if the human population requires more water than is available? Chenoweth states that is unlikely. "Globally, there is adequate fresh water available, and that looks set to continue in the long term. Figures from the FAO indicate that we currently extract less than 10 per cent of the 43,750 cubic kilometers of fresh water returned each year to the Earth's rivers, lakes and aquifers. The water is not distributed evenly, of course. Within a given country water consumption can vary from less than 1 percent of available resources to more than 100 percent, meaning that in some cases resources are being overexploited and degraded." Chenoweth writes that the overexploitation of water can be stopped: "nations can thrive on surprisingly meager quantities of fresh water provided they adopt water-efficient technologies and encourage economic activity that doesn't guzzle water."

In fact, Chenoweth estimates that for a high quality of life every person requires approximately 135 liters (over 35 gallons) a day. His estimate includes cooking, drinking, hygiene, as well as industry, agriculture, and service sectors. Currently the world's largest water guzzlers in the developed world—Canada and New Zealand—consume 700 liters of water per person per day.

Getting people to voluntarily cut back on their water consumption won't be easy. Water efficiency technologies and regulations can only do so much; in the long run, as I and many others have mentioned before, the optimal solution is to simply put a price on water that accurately reflects supply and demand.

Via ::Environmental News Service: Half of All Food Produced Worldwide is Wasted (news website)

More about waste
::Britons Waste $20bn Worth of Food a Year
::Reduce Waste: Lose the Cafeteria Trays