Following on from our recent series of posts about food security, hunger and waste, this is a guest post from Martin Bowman, founder of Bexley/Lewisham/Dartford Food Not Bombs, on how food waste in developed countries is contributing to global food insecurity.
‘Over half of the food produced today is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain.’
- Achim Steiner, Executive director of UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme)
The world is over-crowded – this is the message that resounds through the media. This was especially so in 2011, the year the world’s population passed 7 billion, which caused a worldwide panic – there is not enough to go round! One UN report cried that farmers must produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed our swelling population, which is tipped to hit 9 billion by that point.
Many solutions have been proposed, most notably from the GM lobby, trying to present their patented, privatized food as the cure for the world’s ills, although this is highly questionable. Moreover, the World Food Programme budget for 2009 was US$6.7 billion. That year, the number of hungry people globally reached a record 1 billion, and the WFP argued that it needed an extra $3 billion to counter a downward trend in food aid and growing need. Evidence is also mounting for the link between hunger, violence and conflict.
In short, we are bombarded with images of scarcity. But this is wrong. For we live in a world of unparalleled abundance.
Here is a list of facts which are the antidote to “scarcity thinking”:
• All the world's nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.
• The irrigation water used globally to grow food that is wasted would be enough for the domestic needs (at 200 litres per person per day) of 9 billion people - the number expected on the planet by 2050.
• If we planted trees on land currently used to grow unnecessary surplus and wasted food, this would offset a theoretical maximum of 100% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. 10% of rich countries' greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten.
Tristram Stuart is one of a growing vanguard of food waste campaigners who have emerged in the past few years, which now includes Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, This Is Rubbish, and Friends of the Earth. Their message is simple: throwing way food is damaging to people and the planet. That food (and the resources used to produce it) could be put to better use.
Food prices are also at record highs, which have pushed millions into malnutrition over the past few years. What is the cause of this which is constantly referred to in the press? Scarcity. Hence, the frequent explanation: that crops failures in countries such as Australia contributed to the various price rises, pushing up food prices globally. Other reasons for the record highs are the demand for biofuels and commodity speculation by investment banks and hedge funds. Food wastage is rarely mentioned, and yet throwing 30-50% of the world’s food away puts massive strain on the global food supply, driving prices up.
What is the solution? Food waste needs its own “reduce, reuse, recycle”. This is represented in the simple food waste flow chart – reduce (wasting less will relax the strain on the global food supply), feed to people in need (providing a much needed safety net, especially in the context the financial crisis and austerity programmes), feed to livestock (pigswill can help reduce the West’s reliance on soy, much of which comes from deforested land in Brazil), compost (reduces the need for energy intensive fertilizer), and finally, as a last resort, disposal. For an inspiring list of companies dealing with these different levels of food waste, click here:
If you feel inspired to join the growing food waste movement, here are some great campaigns to get involved with:
• Feeding the 5,000 Pledge: Pledge to reduce your food waste, and call on businesses to do the same.
• Hugh’s Fish Fight: Call for reforms to EU fishery policy, to stop half of the fish caught in the North Sea being discarded.
• Friends of the Earth’s “Feed farm animals, not incinerators” campaign: Call for food waste and pigswill to replace imported animal feeds, often soy grown on deforested land.
• WDM’s Food Speculation campaign: Call for banks to stop betting on food prices, which makes them more volatile and drives them up.
You can also find out more about Food Not Bombs from their facebook page here.