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September 09, 2008

Food Waste

The Stockholm International Water Institute issued a new report (while many of us were vacationing in August) that is worth revisiting. The report covers an aspect of the global food crisis that is often missed: waste.

The report walks the reader through the food chain--from the field, to pre-processing, transport, storage, processing, marketing and finally, your kitchen--and estimates that up to half of all food produced is lost. These losses within the food chain are not the same for rich and poor countries. Broadly speaking, in poor countries most food losses occur at the beginning of the food chain, often in the field due to poor harvesting, or as a result of poor storage and transport facilities (made worse in hot and humid weather). In industrialized countries, the losses occur toward the end of the food chain, where food is wasted in wholesaling, retailing, and among consumers who tend to throw away a significant amount of food.

The authors point to the role of globalization in food loss and in turn make the case for stronger local food systems: "One reason for losses in the food chain is an increasing distance between the places where food is produced and where it is consumed. . .Because more and more of the world's population are moving out of agriculture and into urban centers, the food chain is becoming longer and more complex."

The SIWI report's main conclusions and recommendations are consistent with many of the conclusions of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology, released in April, which looked at how to address the food crisis in an era of climate change and has been endorsed by 57 countries.

Ben Lilliston

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