Food loss and foodwaste

What is food loss and food waste?

Although there is no single international definition, in general terms, food loss and food waste are all those foods discarded from the agrifood chain for whatever reason.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in its latest report (SOFA, 2019), defines food loss and food waste as the “reduction in the quantity and quality of food along the food chain”.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Spain in the framework of the strategy “Más alimento, menos desperdicio” (More food, less waste) doesn’t establish a single definition, but it does propose a guide to know what food waste is: “those foods or beverages that are suitable for human consumption, but end up not being ingested by humans, due to discarding or deterioration”.

In Catalonia, on March 4, 2020, Law 3/2020 on the prevention of food loss and food waste (Ley 3/2020 de prevención de pérdidas y desperdicio alimentario) was approved, which incorporates the definitions of those terms in article 4.

  • Food waste: food intended for human consumption, in a state suitable for ingestion or not, which is removed from the production or supply chain to be discarded in the phases of primary production, processing, manufacture, transport, storage, distribution or the final consumer, except for primary production’s loss.

  • Food loss: the edible parts of the food left on the farm itself, whether re-incorporated into the soil or used for composting.

  • Food wasted: all food that has become (Directive (EU) 2018 / 851), as defined in Article 2 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council (*).

The Numbers

  • 1/3 of the food produced in the world is lost or wasted: this is equivalent to 1.3 billion tons per year. (FAO, 2011)
  • Worldwide, 45% of the fruit and vegetables produced are lost or wasted. (FAO, 2020)
  • If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest source of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere: it is responsible for 3.3 billion tons of CO2 released annually. (FAO, 2013)
  • 38% of total energy consumption for food production is used to produce food that is lost or wasted. (FAO, 2013)
  • 1.4 billion hectares (28% of the world’s agricultural area) are used to produce food that ends up being lost or wasted. (FAO, 2013)

The Causes

The causes of food loss and food waste are complex and are located at different levels and vary depending on the food chain stage and geographical context.

If we consider the volumes of loss and waste generated worldwide from the farm to the table, FAO distinguishes between indirect and direct factors.

The causes of food loss in the farm

Food loss in the primary sector is due to multiple causes, both to direct causes, related to agricultural practices, and to indirect external factors that come from other stages in the agrifood chain such as prices or trade demands and standards.

Going into more detail, the following figure shows the causes identified during the study Tornem a Espigolar (“Go Back to Glean”, Fundació Espigoladors, 2019).

Source: Fundació Espigoladors