We can all help to reduce the shameful waste of food

Mícheál Ó Coileáin Environmental Awareness Officer, Kerry County Council

A RECENT report on food waste, which featured on the BBC, has sent the Twitter system into overdrive. While you can argue about the statistics used, and many have, even if half the wastage is true, the figures are still shocking.

According to the report, as much as half of the world's food, amounting to two billion tonnes worth, is wasted. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers said the waste was being caused by poor storage, strict sell-by dates, bulk offers and consumer fussiness. The study also found that up to 30 per cent of vegetables in the UK were not harvested because of their physical appearance. The institution's Dr Tim Fox described the level of waste as 'staggering'.

The report said that between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the four billion tonnes of food produced around the world each year went to waste. It suggested that half the food bought in Europe and the US was thrown away.

Dr Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: "The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world's growing population, as well as those in hunger today... It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food."

He said the likely reasons for this situation range from poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage infrastructure through to supermarkets demanding cosmetically perfect foodstuffs and encouraging consumers to over-buy through ' buy one get one free offers. And he told the BBC's Today programme: "If you're in the developing world, then the losses are in the early part of the food supply chain - between the field and the marketplace. In the mature, developed economies the waste is really down to poor marketing practices and consumer behaviour.

The report - Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not - also found that huge amounts of water, totalling 550 billion cubic metres, were being used to grow crops that were never eaten. The institution said the demand for water for food production could reach 10 to 13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050. The United Nations predicts there will be an extra three billion mouths to feed by 2075 as the global population swells to 9.5 billion. Dr Fox added: "As water, land and energy resources come under increasing pressure from competing human demands, engineers have a crucial role to play in preventing food loss and waste by developing more efficient ways of growing, transporting and storing foods.

"But in order for this to happen governments, development agencies and organisation like the UN must work together to help change people's mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers," says.

While Dr Fox is talking about food waste in global terms, there's a lesson here for all of us. For a start we can cut down on food waste - and save ourselves a lot of money - be ensuring we don't buy more food than we're likely to eat. After all the ' three for the price of two' offer in a supermarket isn't such a great deal if you only eat one and throw the other two in the bin. A little bit of planning and a shopping list could be the key.

We can also influence the bigger picture. For example, if consumers didn't insist on buying straight cucumbers and perfectly formed apples the 'misshapen' ones wouldn't get ploughed back into the ground. Choosing good quality food isn't the same as judging a beauty contest.

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