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Wasted food: A scandalous situation

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Fri Jan 11, 2013

The Parliamentary debate next week on the 2013 Budget is sure to put some focus on the situation of this country’s poor, poverty, hunger and the struggle of many families to be able to put bread on the table. This is not surprising and is a natural result of the prolonged and continuing economic crisis affecting economies big and small, the world over.{{more}}

That crisis is taking a human toll, undermining steps being taken in pursuit of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) as agreed on by the international community. Among these, there features prominently the need to end hunger worldwide and to enable every human being to be able to satisfy his/her basic food needs. But the global economic crisis is a major threat towards the realisation of such a noble goal. Even in developed countries in Europe, there are heart-wrenching stories of not only how people are being rapidly pauperised in Greece, Spain and Portugal for example, but how poverty levels are driving ever-increasing numbers to stark hunger.

In the face of these unacceptable situations, it is downright scandalous to learn of the revelations contained in a just-released report about the vast scale of food waste the world over. That report, from the UK-based Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IME), is entitled “GLOBAL FOOD: WASTE NOT, WANT NOT”. It makes the shocking claim that almost half of the food produced in the world is wasted. This, at a time when hundreds of millions go hungry every day!

The Report blames poor storage and distribution, post-harvest handling as well as some matters related to supermarket policies for the waste. Dr Tim Fox, Head of the Energy and Environment departments at the IME, described the food losses as simply “staggering” and said that it points to the “unnecessary waste of land, water and energy resources used in the production, processing and distribution” of such food. Water alone, is a critical resource which many knowledgeable persons predict can lead to serious conflict between nations. Yet, the Report states that huge amounts, 500 billion cubic metres, are being used to grow crops which are never eaten.

The wasteful practices of mindless consumerism in countries like the USA account for huge amounts of food being thrown away, by supermarkets, restaurants and also homes, including by people who could ill afford it. But it is instructive that we understand how countries like ours, in addition to adopting wasteful practices, are affected.

Our troubled banana industry is one example. Our farmers have become totally dependent on the giant supermarket chains in the UK for markets. But, as the Report verifies, these giant chains have been introducing selling practices which have nothing to do with food value, but rather cosmetic appearances. This cosmetic perfection results in large amounts of rejects and bananas which have to be dumped. There is now much discussion in international banana circles about how such policies are both having detrimental effects of the livelihood of farmers as well as leading to waste and dumping.

Lifestyles, consumerism, inadequate storage and transportation practices and poor post-harvest handling are all contributing to this global waste of a precious commodity. It is a serious matter not only for wasteful developed countries but moreso for countries like ours, with scarce resources, which can ill afford the waste. It calls for urgent attention at both the international as well as the local level. We cannot have hunger and starvation on one hand and be wasting and dumping food, even in our local markets, at the other. As the Report is entitled, “Waste not, want not”, we should also remember the old adage, “Wilful waste brings woeful want”.

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