Food waste was denounced by farm ministers and policy makers gathered in Berlin as almost 1 billion people in developing countries go hungry.
Consumers in rich countries dispose of 220 million metric tons of food waste every year, equal to the entire food output of sub-Saharan Africa, Jose Graziano da Silva, the director general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, told 64 agriculture ministers meeting in Berlin over the weekend.
“We must change our way of thinking, we must have more education, we must have discussion about best-before dates,” German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said. “Every food item thrown away is wasted.”
One third of the food produced in the world every year is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion metric tons, according to Graziano da Silva. As many as 925 million people faced hunger worldwide in 2010, based on the FAO’s most recent estimate.
The ministers meeting in Berlin said food should be treated “responsibly and carefully,” particularly to reduce waste, according to a joint declaration by countries including Germany, France, Japan and the U.K. on Jan. 21.
“In developed countries, the waste of food is really something that is a concern,” Graziano da Silva said. “Even today, we produce enough food, despite that we have 1 billion people undernourished.”
World food prices tracked by the FAO reached the highest ever last February on surging grain prices, before slipping 11 percent through December. The FAO food-price index averaged a record 228 points last year, 23 percent more than in 2010 and above the 200 points recorded in 2008, when food riots erupted from Haiti to Egypt. The index began in 1990. Wheat and corn climbed for a third consecutive day in Chicago today.
“We see our brothers and sisters in Africa suffering from hunger, at the same time we see people in developed countries having too much food and suffering from diseases such as obesity,” Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister Suswono Asyraf said.
The abundance and ubiquity of food in developed economies means many consumers there take their meal for granted, without considering what goes into its production, said Dacian Ciolos, the European Union’s agriculture commissioner.
“It’s not because we have easy access to food that we can waste it,” Ciolos said. “If we let these foods rot, we waste financial resources, we waste natural resources and we also waste labor.”
The FAO has said global food output must rise 70 percent by 2050 to feed a world population expected to grow to 9 billion from 7 billion now and as increasingly wealthy consumers in developing economies eat more meat. Raising production alone is not enough, according to Ciolos.
“Farmers already make a lot of effort to produce more,” Ciolos said. “It’s now up to us to look at these foods with different eyes. It’s a priority in industrialized countries to better value the production that we have.”
Lawmakers only have “vague estimations” of food waste, according to Aigner. The minister said she’s commissioned a study in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, to gain a better understanding of where food is wasted.
“Apples which may not correspond to the norms of consumers, they must not be thrown away, they must enter the food chain,” Aigner said. “The debate we have here in Europe and Germany is a luxury.”
Making food pricier is not the way to raise awareness among European consumers, because food access is a challenge also for the European Union’s poor, according to Ciolos.
“It’s really a question of education,” Ciolos said. “It’s a problem of society, of all society. Food habits, we cannot only resolve them with price.”
Consumers in rich countries have lost “grandmother’s knowledge on how to cook things,” as they buy more and more processed foods, according to Graziano da Silva. He said there’s a need to educate people about eating.
“We teach people everything including how to drive, why not teach people what and how to eat?” the FAO chief said. “We need to urgently put in place food and nutrition education programs, to help families eat better.”
Adoption of rich countries’ wasteful food-consumption pattern across the world would lead to unsustainable demand for natural resources, according to the FAO director general.
“We cannot limit sustainability to food production, we need to also look at our food consumption,” Graziano da Silva said. “Waste less.”