The Food Waste Debacle

March 1, 2015 |

23-clean-plate-insideSometimes life hands out some telling coincidences. Here’s one for the ages.

Last week there was  a Fast Food industry fly-in to DC — arguing for a repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard on the grounds of food price impact. Politico reports:

“The National Council of Chain Restaurants … hosted a fly-in [Wednesday], calling for action on the Renewable Fuel Standard. Franchisees and executives from Wendy’s, TGI Friday’s, White Castle and other restaurant brands met with lawmakers about the need to repeal the RFS and the corn ethanol mandate. NCCR leads a food retail coalition known as “RFS Off the Menu” which is asking Congress to act on RFS legislation this year.”

The coincidence?

It just happens that major report on food waste has appeared, in this same week, concluding that “One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, while the value of global consumer food waste is more than US$400 billion per year.”

The report adds that “An astonishing 7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), or 3.3 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) per year, are due to food waste.”

Waste, by the numbers

In my days at Harper’s we had this interesting page of stats called the Harper’s Index, which I’ll borrow the style of for a moment.

Percentage increase in the obesity rate between 1980 and 2013: 27
Percentage of children born in 2000 that will develop diabetes: 33

Percentage decrease in the Chicago Board of Trade corn price since February 2014: 13
Percentage increase in fast food prices in 2014: 3.5

Percentage of US corn kernels, by weight, processed into fuel ethanol: 13
Percentage of all food everywhere, that ends up in the garbage pail: 33

Rank of “the food price impact” of “the corn ethanol mandate” on a list of topics for a February 2015 Washington, DC lobbying “fly-in” by the fast food industry: 1
Number of discussions proposed on obesity, diabetes and food waste: 0

Americans United for Change goes a little farther in its critique.

“They’re once again trying to mislead lawmakers that the RFS is to blame for rising food prices and carbon pollution, but when it comes to proving it, the beef is nowhere to be found.

“The fact is the World Bank and a number of leading ag academics and economists have studied renewable fuels’ impact on food prices at the grocery store extensively and concluded there simply isn’t one.

“The fact is the World Bank found crude oil prices were responsible for over 50 percent of the increase in food prices since 2004.   Instead of entrusting America’s energy policy to White Castle, we should be listening to the scientists at Argonne National Laboratory – who found that corn ethanol cuts carbon pollution by 34% compared to gasoline. Why Big Food is doing this is obvious: to supersize their profits.”

Getting back to food waste, Dr Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP said:

“Food waste is a global issue and tackling it is a priority. This report emphasises the benefits that can be obtained for businesses, consumers and the environment. The difficulty is often in knowing where to start and how to make the biggest economic and environmental savings. In partnership with UNEP and FAO, WRAP produced international guidance on how to achieve that through implementing effective food waste prevention strategies that can be used across the world.

Helen Mountford, Global Programme Director for the New Climate Economy, said:

“Reducing food waste is good for the economy and good for the climate. Less food waste means greater efficiency, more productivity, and direct savings for consumers. It also means more food available to feed the estimated 805 million that go to bed hungry each day. Reducing food waste is also a great way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These findings should serve as a wakeup call to policymakers around the world.”

The report highlights how practical changes, such as lowering the average temperatures of refrigerators or designing better packaging, can make a considerable difference in preventing spoilage. Some quick wins, too. The authors note “approximately 25% of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment.”

There’s more on the food waste report here.

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