The loss and waste of high-nutrient foods is a huge global problem which, if addressed, could help tackle malnutrition and improve global health, according to a recently released policy brief from the Global Panel of Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (GLOPAN).  The brief argues that the loss and waste of nutritious foods needs to be an urgent ‘new’ priority for improving diets and nutrition.

Back in 2014 I discussed on this blog  an Oxfam study of 125 countries with the objective of discovering the best and worst places to eat.  At that time it was the first study of its kind and found that, while some suffer malnutrition, others face obesity.  In its media statement Oxfam stated that the index illustrated:

“a broken global food system, in which consumers suffer from both under nutrition and obesity – often in the same countries or communities. It is clear that governments and the food industry need to address this.”

Overall, the level of waste and over-consumption in some countries, while other countries go hungry, indicates disparate food distribution.  

This recent brief from GLOPAN sheds further light on the problem of food waste, finding that in low-income countries unintentional food loss occurs mainly during the production process, whereas in high and middle-income countries food waste is mostly driven by retailers and consumers.  Both amount to major losses of resources, including water, land, and energy.

According to the brief, the global economic cost of food loss and waste is US$940 billion per year. Unfortunately, the perishable nature of nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, meat, and fish and seafood make them disproportionately prone to both loss and waste.  Shockingly, more than 50% of all fruits and vegetables and 20–30% of meat produced globally are lost or wasted.

The availability of micronutrients were a specific concern. The brief notes that global agriculture produces 22% more vitamin A than we require, but that, after loss and waste, the amount available for human consumption is 11% less than that needed.  GLOPAN formulates six general priority areas for policy action to mitigate perishable nutrient-rich food while concurrently protecting losses in the food system.   

Large quantities of nutritious foods are lost upstream and midstream in value chains, through deterioration and pest damage in storage, the use of milling and transformation, and inadequate cold chains.  Many nutrients are also lost through waste where retailers discard ‘un-sellable’ perishable products or consumers discard uneaten food.

Many initiatives are already in place to try to reduce food waste, such as charities which distribute leftover food from supermarkets and bakeries, to community fridges where people contribute food that would otherwise go to waste, to laws which actually make wasting food illegal, such as those introduced in France.  

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...