Feeding the 9 Billion: The tragedy of waste
By 2075, the United Nations’ mid-range projection for global population growth predicts that human numbers will peak at about 9.5 billion people. This means that there could be an extra three billion mouths to feed by the end of the century, a period in which substantial changes are anticipated in the wealth, calorific intake and dietary preferences of people in developing countries across the world.
Such a projection presents mankind with wide-ranging social, economic, environmental and political issues that need to be addressed today to ensure a sustainable future for all. One key issue is how to produce more food in a world of finite resources.
Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
In mature, fully developed countries such as the UK, more-efficient farming practices and better transport, storage and processing facilities ensure that a larger proportion of the food produced reaches markets and consumers. However, characteristics associated with modern consumer culture mean produce is often wasted through retail and customer behaviour.
Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. For example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.
Of the produce that does appear in the supermarket, commonly used sales promotions frequently encourage customers to purchase excessive quantities which, in the case of perishable foodstuffs, inevitably generate wastage in the home. Overall between 30% and 50% of what has been bought in developed countries is thrown away by the purchaser.
(Reproduced from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers UK study into global food wastage)
Personal comment: one wonders how much food is spoilt in refrigeration in South Africa and how much the alarmingly low level of interest demonstrated by people, working in the wider food industry in this country, in seeking solutions (such as the one we offer to substantially reduce and even totally eliminate refrigerated food spoilage) contributes to the unacceptably high global food loss?