A third of the food raised or prepared globally is wasted, which depletes resources, says columnist. (Stock photo)

A third of the food raised or prepared globally is wasted, which depletes resources, says columnist. (Stock photo)

17% of food production globally wasted: UN report

That amounts to 1.03 billion tons of food going to waste each year

Instead of finishing your leftovers, you let them go bad and buy takeout.

It’s a familiar routine for many — and indicative of habits that contribute to a global food waste problem that a new United Nations report says needs to be better measured so that it can be effectively addressed.

The U.N. report estimates 17% of the food produced globally each year is wasted. That amounts to 931 million metric tons (1.03 billion tons) of food.

The waste is far more than previous reports had indicated, though direct comparisons are difficult because of differing methodologies and the lack of strong data from many countries.

“Improved measurement can lead to improved management,” said Brian Roe, a food waste researcher at Ohio State University who was not involved in the report.

Most of the waste — or 61% — happens in households, while food service accounts for 26% and retailers account for 13%, the U.N. found. The U.N. is pushing to reduce food waste globally, and researchers are also working on an assessment of waste that includes the food lost before reaching consumers.

The authors note the report seeks to offer a clearer snapshot of the scale of a problem that has been difficult to assess, in hopes of spurring governments to invest in better tracking.

“Many countries haven’t yet quantified their food waste, so they don’t understand the scale of the problem,” said Clementine O’Connor, of the U.N. Environment Program and co-author of the report.

Food waste has become a growing concern because of the environmental toll of production, including the land required to raise crops and animals and the greenhouse gas emissions produced along the way. Experts say improved waste tracking is key to finding ways to ease the problem, such as programs to divert inedible scraps to use as animal feed or fertilizer.

The report found food waste in homes isn’t limited to higher income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Roe of Ohio State noted that food sometimes is wasted in poor countries without reliable home refrigeration. In richer countries, people might eat out more, meaning food waste is simply shifted from the home to restaurants.

Roe said cultural norms and policies also could contribute to waste at home — such as massive packaging, “buy one, get one free” deals, or lack of composting programs.

That’s why broader system changes are key to helping reduce waste in households, said Chris Barrett, an agricultural economist at Cornell University.

For example, Barrett said, people might throw away food because of a date on the product — even though such dates don’t always say when a food is unsafe to eat. “Food waste is a consequence of sensible decisions by people acting on the best information available,” he said.

To clarify the meaning of labeling dates, U.S. regulators have urged food makers to be more consistent in using them. They note that labels like “Sell By”, “Best By” and “”Enjoy By” could cause people to throw out food prematurely, even though some labels are intended only to indicate when quality might decline.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a family of four wastes about $1,500 in food each year. But accurately measuring food waste is difficult for a variety of reasons including data availability, said USDA food researcher Jean Buzby, adding that improved measurements are part of a government plan to reduce waste.

Richard Swannell, a co-author of the U.N. report, said food was generally more valued even in richer countries just a few generations ago, since people often couldn’t afford to waste it. Now, he said, awareness about the scale of food waste globally could help shift attitudes back to that era.

“Food is too important to waste,” he said.

FoodUnited Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelly Ng (left) tries to get the attention of Podzol and Aquila as twin sister, Pauline Ng, snaps a photo of the two dogs by a field of hyacinths at the Chilliwack Tulips attraction on April 13. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
PHOTOS: Strolling through tulips, hyacinths and daffodils at Chilliwack Tulips attraction

Colourful spring flower attraction opened on the weekend in Chilliwack, continues into May

Cannabis plants visible under bright lights inside a large facility at Shxwha:y Village on July 6, 2018. The reserve was home to the licensed producer for Indigenous Bloom, which opened up a dispensary on the Kwaw-Kwaw-Apilt reserve. On April 12, 2021, Shxwha:y announced Health Canada approval for a licensed production facility at the village. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack’s Shxwha:y First Nation approved for cannabis cultivation and processing facility

It will be the first majority-owned Indigenous on-reserve licensed facility in Western Canada

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including South Surrey’s Pacific Highway should ‘not be left behind’

Bat Packs are the newest addition to the FVRL Playground, and have everything you need to learn more about bats, and track them in your neighbourhood. (FVRL image)
Bat Packs at Fraser Valley libraries come with echometer to track bats

Packs are the newest part of the FVRL Playground inventory

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

Surrey RCMP are seeking the public's help to locate three puppies stolen from a South Surrey home on April 10. (Surrey RCMP photos)
UPDATE: 1 of 3 puppies stolen from South Surrey returned to owner

American Bulldog puppy recovered after being sold at Mission car show

Two women walk past ‘The Meeting’ sculptures in White Rock’s Miramar Plaza Wednesday afternoon. (Aaron Hinks photo)
New public art in White Rock faces criticism as the ‘two Michaels’ remain in China’s custody

‘I would encourage people to go out and enjoy it’ said Vancouver Biennale founder

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Everett Cummings in a tribute video posted to dignitymemorial.com.
Mechanic’s death at Fraser Surrey Docks leads to $200K fine for company, union says

Photos of rally outside Surrey court posted on ILWU’s ‘Kill A Worker Go To Jail’ Facebook page

Most Read