A study has found that up to half of food produced in the US is never eaten. Timothy W. Jones, an anthropologist from the University of Arizona spent 10 years recording food loss from farms, warehouses, supermarkets and restaurants. He found that edible food is routinely discarded at a cost of billions of dollars per annum.
Unrealistic aspirations for perfect food accounts for much of farm waste, as retail outlets reject unshapely or imperfect-looking vegetables. Farmers must then sell the rejected produce as cattle feed, or simply throw it away. “It’s all about blemish-free produce,” says Jay Johnson, who owns a fruit and vegetables shipping company. “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.” Up to a quarter of food is rejected on-farm.
Supermarkets end up throwing away around 10% of their produce while consumers waste about 15% of the food they buy. All in all, it amounts to a huge investment of resources to produce so much food that is never eaten.
Global food waste stands at about 33%, or about 1.6 billion tonnes per annum. Charities sometimes manage to strike deals with farmers or retailers to collect rejected food, but a national strategy has only been employed by one country. Denmark has cut food waste by a quarter in the last 10 years mainly through the work of one lobby group, Stop Wasting Food.
“Stop Wasting Food is a non-profit, voluntary consumer movement, which is fighting against food waste and since 2008 has helped to bring massive focus on food waste in Denmark and achieved numerous results in Denmark, the EU, the Nordic countries and the United Nations. Denmark generates an annual food waste of 700,000 tons - that we are fighting to stop. We are backed by over 50,000 Danes and a large number of leading politicians..”
Ireland generates over a million tonnes of food waste per annum, according to foodwaste.ie. This body ensures that much of our food waste is recycled through composting, but the fact that so much food goes uneaten must surely be cause for concern to everybody.