A solution to food price spikes – reducing waste – Herald Publications

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By Daniel Grant
FarmWeek

Consumers should think twice before throwing away the last bits of bread, lightly bruised fruit or milk just past its expiration date.

Food waste and loss is a key driver of the sub-optimal diets, environmental problems and inflationary pressure currently plaguing most countries around the world – some more serious than others.

The USDA recently forecast that grocery store prices could rise another 3-4% this year, while restaurant meals could slash Americans’ food budgets by 5.5-6.5%. This after the consumer price index (CPI) jumped 8.5% from March 2021 to 2022.

“Food prices are rising around the world,” said Rob Vos, director of the markets, trade and institutions division of the International Food Policy Research Institute. “It could push millions of the poor into hunger or food shortages.”

Vos and other food industry experts discussed the growing concern over food price inflation, malnutrition and widespread food waste and loss during an online panel discussion hosted by the Farm Journal Foundation .

Recent issues that are accelerating food price inflation include the war in Ukraine, which could reduce the global supply of certain commodities, and the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu in the United States. Wholesale wheat prices are expected to rise 12% to 15%, while the USDA predicts poultry prices could climb 6% to 7% this year.

But a long-term problem that contributes to food shortages in some areas remains waste. Patrick Webb, professor of food policy at Tufts University, reported that around 14% of all food is lost and an additional 6% is wasted globally each year. Other estimates suggest that up to a third of all food is lost and wasted each year.

“Food waste and loss is a significant contributor to global nutrition challenges (and environmental concerns),” Webb said.

“It’s really, really important to focus on this fruit at hand. It (the problem of food waste) still doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” he noted. “The goal is a food system that feeds people and the planet.”

Some of the reasons for food waste differ by country. More food losses typically occur due to inadequate storage and transportation issues in developing countries, while some wastage in high-income countries occurs due to discards beyond best before dates and purchases excess. But, whatever the cause, the overall food waste rate is eerily similar in every country in the world.

“I was surrounded by hunger (growing up in Alabama). It’s always so shocking for people to hear in America,” said Alabama Cooperative Extension agent Olivia Fuller. It’s a national situation, it’s not just something that happens in developing countries.

On the bright side, there are many steps people can take to reduce food waste, even if it doesn’t reduce food price inflation in the short term.

Webb suggested improving access to infrastructure and markets, improving storage and handling technologies to reduce food damage and spoilage, improving packaging to keep food fresher, making cosmetic standards more conducive to the sale of ‘imperfect’ foods with irregular shape or imperfections and improved access to storage facilities. .

Tim Fox, a member and chair of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, said about 70% of food in US supermarkets is transported there through a temperature-controlled cold chain process. controlled.

There are opportunities to improve refrigeration efficiency in the United States and to add those opportunities elsewhere. He noted that up to 40% of fruits and vegetables are lost due to spoilage in India, where there is a shortfall of around 53,000 refrigerated trucks to transport produce.

“We need a better integrated food supply chain,” Fox said.

Webb agreed as he noted, “Quality of food matters as much as quantity. If it’s not good, it doesn’t contribute to good nutrition.

On the farm, Fuller believes in leveraging research and resources so farmers can produce the most food with the fewest resources.

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