Challenge of food waste is put centre stage at conference

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Professor Leon A. Terry, Director of Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield University, has called for a paradigm shift in funding strategies and research programmes in order to tackle food waste on a global scale. He highlighted the food waste issue while addressing this year’s Oxford Farming Conference.

Every year, UK households waste £12.5 billion on 7m tonnes of food and drink that is bought and subsequently discarded. This is according to a recent report entitled ‘From waste to resource productivity’ by Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

Professor Terry said that, in order to address the global threat of food security, research needs to be directed at both increasing crop production and minimising waste.

He added: “Emphasis has been put on increasing future crop production, with far less resource being channelled towards enabling both established and innovative food preservation technologies to reduce food waste.

In a recent paper entitled ‘Minimising food waste: a call for multidisciplinary research’, published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Cranfield University researchers claim that assessing the global scale of food waste is challenging, with question marks over the extent and accuracy of post-harvest loss and waste data.

They also argue that there is a paucity of active research being conducted in areas where post-harvest fresh produce loss is greatest. For example, Europe is one of the dominant areas for postharvest research, yet makes a relatively low contribution to global food loss.

In Africa, which contributes approximately 18% of global postharvest food losses, they suggest the research base is too low across the continent, with the majority of research stemming from South Africa. Professor Terry argues that UK research funds should be used to address this imbalance.

“The global threat to food security requires a dual-pronged global solution focussed on increasing crop production and reducing food waste,” he explained.

“However, across the world, we see much greater emphasis on research funding programmes that focus on increasing production rather than also improving preservation and reducing waste.

“If we are to address the global challenge of food security we need to see a paradigm shift in current funding strategies and research programmes that will encourage the development and implementation of collective solutions to better preserve and utilise food.”

According to Iseult Ward, the founder and chief executive of the FoodCloud charity, 1.8 billion people in countries around the world do not have enough food to eat.

“But there is more than enough to go around,” she said.

“The problem is that 30% of all the food that we produce goes to waste. This results in results in US$940 billion per year in economic losses. Approximately, 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for by food waste.

“In fact, if food loss and food waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter.”

“Here in Ireland we waste 1m tonnes of food annually while one-in-eight people do not have enough food to eat. This is a moral dilemma for the country.”