Almost 200,000 tonnes of food is lost or wasted in Ireland each year through farming and fishing production with up to 40pc of some vegetables being discarded before being sold to consumers.
A new study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated for the first time the level of food waste at primary production level in addition to the 1.1 million tonnes lost each year through consumers, processors and food businesses.
Researchers at Munster Technological University and UCD calculated that 189,485 tonnes of food is lost or wasted annually with particular problems with horticultural products because of conditions imposed in contracts by retailers on price and quality and the lack of ecological and sustainable farming methods.
Potatoes account for almost 40pc of all food lost or wasted at primary production level in the Republic with almost 73,000 tonnes lost annually, mostly as a result of problems with harvesting the crop.
In addition, 18,000 tonnes of carrots are unsaleable and almost 8,000 tonnes of cabbage.
The study shows around 42,000 tonnes of meat is wasted annually at primary production level including over 30,000 tonnes of beef and 8,600 tonnes of pig meat.
Almost 3,300 tonnes of milk is discarded each year due to mastitis in cows.
The study noted that sudden death was common in the poultry sector, where annual waste is estimated at 1,485 tonnes, which is frequently attributed to farming practices that aim to grow animals faster than their natural growth rate.
It found more than 5,600 tonnes of mushrooms are discarded each year because supermarket requests stalks are cut off for aesthetic reasons, while more than 2,200 tonnes of swedes are wasted because they are misshapen or do not meet customer specifications.
Over 700 tonnes of cauliflower and broccoli are discarded because of supermarkets cancelling orders “at the last minute.”
The main source of food waste in the fishing industry was Pacific oyster (2,315 tonnes) and salmon (2,061 tonnes).
The study said it has not been possible to estimate the level of food loss caused by pollution and climate change.
It also noted rising population rates meant Ireland would need to produce 25pc more food by 2050.
However, many food producers said they regarded wastage as an unavoidable loss as they believed improving farming methods was economically impossible given current prices paid by processors and retailers.
The lead researcher on the project, Jennifer Attard of the Circular Bioeconomy Research Group at MTU, said the situation posed challenges as the agricultural sector alone was already responsible for 33pc of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr Attard said exploiting land for intensive food production had already led to soil degradation and an increase in overfishing had put several species at risk.
“Food waste is a social and public health issue as food poverty is experienced by 9pc of the population,” said Dr Attard.
The Government has set a target that overall food waste levels should be reduced by 505 by 2030
The study recommended that all food producers should be provided with knowledge of efficient low food loss and waste practices, while unfair trading practices should be eliminated and food supply chains shortened.
It also said they should integrate biological practices and smart technologies in their production operations and share resources with other producers.