WWF and Tesco have published Driven to Waste, a new report that quantifies the total amount of food lost on farms globally, revealing that an estimated 2.5 billion tonnes of food goes uneaten around the world each year
That is an increase of approximately 1.2 billion tonnes on the established estimates of 1.3 billion tonnes wasted each year. These new estimates indicate that of all the food grown, approximately 40% goes uneaten, which is higher than the previously estimated figure of 33%.
Producing food uses a huge amount of land, water and energy, so wasted food significantly impacts climate change – previous estimates suggest that food waste accounts for 8% of greenhouse gases (GHG). Driven to Waste’s new data indicate that the numbers are even more substantial, pointing to a contribution of approximately 10% of all GHG emissions. This is the equivalent of nearly twice the annual emissions produced by all the cars driven in the US and Europe.
Compounding the pressure from continued global agricultural resource-use expansion, 4.4 million sq km of agricultural land and 760 cu km of water are used to produce the 1.2 billion tonnes of food that are lost before, during and after harvest or diverted to other uses such as animal feed and biofuel. This equates to a landmass larger than the Indian subcontinent and water volume equivalent to 304 million Olympic swimming pools - and this does not include the additional resources used to produce food that is wasted further down the supply chain.
Crucially, in exploring the contributory factors to food loss, Driven to Waste overturns a long-held belief that food loss on farms is solely an issue in less affluent regions with lower levels of industrialisation. The report shows that per capita farm-stage losses are generally higher in industrialised regions. Despite having higher on-farm mechanisation and only 37% of the global population, high- and middle- income countries of Europe, North America and industrialised Asia contribute 58% of global harvest waste.
Pete Pearson, global food loss and waste initiative lead, WWF, commented, “We have known for years that food loss and waste is a huge problem that can be minimised, which in turn could reduce the impact of food systems on nature and climate. This report shows us the problem is likely bigger than we had thought. Over 50% of food that goes uneaten is lost on farms, but this is not just an issue in developing regions. Driven to Waste shows us more food is lost on farms per capita in very advanced supply chains like the US and Europe. Food loss and waste, and on-farm food loss, is a global problem.”
Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 speaks specifically to food loss and waste but it only sets a measurable target to halve food waste (at the retail and consumption end) by 2030. Goals to reduce food loss refer only to post-harvest but do not include measurable targets. Although several countries are beginning to develop action plans to tackle food loss and waste, they are often concentrated in the latter stage of the supply chain, largely because the scale and severity of the problem on farms has not previously been fully appreciated.