On-farm food waste levels higher than previously thought, study reveals

Global food waste levels are 1.2 billion tonnes higher annually than previously thought, according to a new study.

WWF and supermarket giant Tesco have published Driven to Waste, a report that quantifies the total amount of food lost on farms globally, revealing an estimated 2.5 billion tonnes of food goes uneaten around the world annually. This is an increase of approximately 1.2 billion tonnes on the established estimates of 1.3 billion tonnes wasted each year.

These new estimates indicate that of all the food grown globally, approximately 40% goes uneaten, which is higher than the previously estimated figure of 40%.

Driven to Waste is the first quantification of total on-farm food losses since 2011. When combined with updated data on loss in supply chains and waste at retail and consumption, we have a clearer picture of the scale of food loss and waste from farm-to-fork that demonstrates how important it is that this stage is no longer overlooked in efforts to limit global warming.

Producing food uses a huge amount of land, water, and energy, the companies said, so wasted food significantly impacts climate change. Previous estimates suggest that food waste accounts for 8% of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

The new report indicates that the numbers are even more substantial, pointing to a contribution of around 10% of all GHG emissions. This is the equivalent of nearly twice the annual emissions produced by all cars driven in the US and Europe.

“We have known for years that food loss and waste is a huge problem that can be minimised, which in turn could reduce the impact of food systems on nature and climate,” said Pete Pearson, global food loss and waste initiative lead at WWF.

“This report shows us the problem is likely bigger than we had thought. Over 50% of food that goes uneaten is lost on farms, but this is not just an issue in developing regions. Driven to Waste shows us more food is lost on farms per capita in very advanced supply chains like the US and Europe. Food loss and waste, and on-farm food loss, is a global problem.”

To date, only 11 of the 192 national climate plans – around 5% - submitted as part of the Paris Agreement mention food loss and waste, said the firms. The majority of these 11 plans come from African nations tackling post-harvest losses.

Taking a more holistic view and tackling losses at all stages on farms will help mitigate climate change, reduce pressure to convert nature, and help achieve food security, the report highlighted.

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