Food Waste in the Supply Chain

FruitsA one-day conference held at the Dutch Embassy in London last week focussed on a topic which is emerging in response to the need to increase food production by at least 50% to feed a population of 9 billion in 2050.

The topic is food waste reduction and encompasses food waste across the whole of the supply chain, from the grower and farmer to the distributor, the retailer and the consumer. Food waste not just in terms of food which is thrown away the end of a meal, but food which is lost during production, storage, distribution and sale. For fresh produce for instance, losses occur during production and during storage, transport and distribution if conditions are unfavourable and the infrastructure and knowledge needed to maintain the cold chain are missing, resulting in food contamination and deterioration. Retailers and consumers increase these losses by rejecting produce on the basis of perceived quality defects and discarding produce which is still suitable for consumption. Apart from environmental considerations, like wasting water on growing food which is never eaten, and disposing of waste, the more food we waste the more we need to produce.

At the distributor and retail level, speakers at the Food Waste Conference ‘No opportunity wasted’ talked about food waste initiatives being undertaken by various companies which have in fact saved them money, and emphasized that food waste can be turned from a problem into an opportunity. One company, a distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables, is trying to reduce waste in the supply chain by selling misshapen fruits and vegetables as ingredients to restaurants, extending the natural life of products by sourcing them at the right stage, sometimes using packaging to reduce waste, and suggesting new solutions to stringent quality requirements to avoid waste. Another company has tackled waste by implementing changes such as altering the size of orders and aligning production with demand – these measures have also resulted in considerable cost savings.

Through its Plantwise programme, CABI is helping to decrease food losses by reducing crop losses caused by pests and diseases. Plantwise clinics are now operating in over 20 countries with locally trained ‘plant doctors’ providing diagnosis and appropriate pest management advice to smallholder growers and farmers.

And on 5 March 2013, CABI is participating in Waste Not Want Not: Agri-Food Waste Solutions for a Hungry World – a one-day conference in London organized by the Agri-Food Hub of SCI (Society of Chemical Industry) where speakers will discuss the current situation and initiatives to address the problem, and where projects illustrating some practical examples of the opportunities available will be highlighted.

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