How food waste differs around the world

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October 16 is World Food Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness about global hunger. One way to reduce hunger is by addressing food waste, which can also help contain the impact that farming has on the environment.

Around the world food waste occurs at every step of the food chain. Globally, about 24% of food calories produced for people get wasted on the journey from farm to plate, and in the U.S. that percentage is even higher. But how that happens is very different depending on where you live.

In Europe, North America and Oceania, more than half of food waste happens at the final consumption phase. This suggests that consumer awareness and point-of-sale changes may be key to reducing food waste in these areas. Reforms to confusing “sell by” and “best by” dates may also help consumers in these countries eat more of the food that comes home from the store.

The picture is very different in sub-Saharan Africa and South and South East Asia, where more of the food waste happens early in the supply chain. National Geographic reports that 10 to 20 percent of grain in sub-Saharan Africa is ruined by mold, rats or insects. A lack of refrigeration makes it difficult to store dairy, fish and meats. This suggests the potential need for better infrastructure and also more support for farmers.

The World Resources Institute is working on an initiative to better measure food waste globally, which is expected to be released some time next year. “This is based on the idea that what gets measured gets managed,” writes World Resources Institute’s Brian Lipinski. “How can a company or a country cut its food loss and waste if it doesn’t know how much food is being wasted to begin with?”

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“How food waste differs around the world”