Food Loss and Waste

Food loss and waste contribute to food insecurity, loss of food quality (reduces nutritional status) and a loss of economic value. Reducing food loss and waste is therefore an important aspect of reaching food security. This isn’t only about losing and wasting food, but also of all the resources that are required to produce, process and distribute it, such as freshwater, cropland, energy and fertilizers.

Food loss: refers to a decrease, at all stages of the food chain prior to the consumer level, in mass, of food that was originally intended for human consumption, regardless of the cause. (HLPE, 2014). Food loss particularly occurs in developing countries, in the early and middle stages of the (fresh) food value chain.

Food waste: refers to food appropriate for human consumption being discarded or left to spoil at consumer level (HLPE, 2014). Food waste is the result of rejects and spoilage of products and occurs mainly in emerging and developing countries.

Food quality loss or waste: refers to the decrease of a quality attribute of food (nutrition, aspect, etc) linked to the degradation of the product, at all stages of the food chain from harvest to consumption.

Worldwide, the total value of food loss and waste is estimated at US$ 1 trillion. This is around one-third of the total food production for human consumption. Food loss and waste are as high in developing countries as in industrialized countries. In developing countries over 40 % of the food losses occur at post-harvest and processing level, while in industrialized countries over 40 % of the loss and waste occurs at retail and consumer level (see table below).

Source: FAO, 2011

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables (FFV) are the most perishable food items, accounting for the highest share of food loss and is usually the most wasted item, followed by perishables such as bakery and dairy products, then meat and fish.

Estimates of food loss and waste per sector:
  • 40-50% in root crops, fruits and vegetables
  • 30 % in cereals
  • 30 % of fish
  • 20 % of oilseeds, meats and dairy

(Source: FAO and SIK, 2011)

Direct causes of food loss and waste include poor harvest scheduling, handling, storage facilities, packaging, transport and logistics. Beyond these direct causes one should take into account the underlying, more systemic causes. These include lack of communication and coordination within and between food value chains, which can be attributed to a lack of institutional and/or policy conditions to facilitate the necessary multi-actor approaches.

In low income countries, food loss results from a wide-range of managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage, transportation, processing, cooling facilities, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems. In these countries, the losses are highest in the small and medium scale fisheries, agricultural production and processing. Given that many smallholder farmers in developing countries live on the margins of food insecurity; reduction of food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods.

In medium and high income countries, waste is related to consumer behaviour (influenced by household-level expenditure on food, which is relatively low as compared to other expenditure components such as housing) and the policies and regulations in place to address other sectorial priorities.

There are two important developments that make it very important to act on food loss and waste.
  1. Growing insecurity on availability, accessibility and affordability of food and related resources such as land, water, fertilizer and seeds. This is caused by population growth, increased urbanization, climate change and increase of food prices.
  2. Income growth in emerging economies, changing consumer’s preferences, lifestyles and diet patterns.

To address food loss and waste, refer to the article Addressing Food Loss and Waste.


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