World Loses Roughly 20% of Food to Waste and Overeating

World Loses Roughly 20% of Food to Waste and Overeating

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Susmita Baral
Feb 23, 2017
(Image credit: Evan Lorne/Shutterstock)

Chowing down on that extra hot dog despite being full or tossing out some veggies that are on the verge of going bad may seem pretty harmless, but that habit is contributing to a global food problem. A new study says gluttony and waste are responsible for a fifth of the world's food loss.

Using data from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the study found that 9 percent of global food supply is thrown away or left to rot by consumers. And those privileged enough to have food security also consume 10 percent more than they need. Cumulatively, this accounts for 19 percent of food loss. That's a lot of food.

"This study highlights that food security has production and consumption dimensions that need to be considered when designing sustainable food systems," Dominic Moran, a professor at the University of York who was involved in the study published in the journal Agricultural Systems, says in a statement. "It also highlights that the definition of waste can mean different things to different people."

Overconsumption, consumer waste, and production inefficiency reportedly account for losses of nearly 50 percent when it comes to harvested crops. But that's not the worst of it — livestock product was found to be the least efficient process with 78 percent loss.

Should this be reduced, then there could be more food for the world. Consider this: Roughly 4.6 trillion pounds of harvested crops are wasted, and for every 2.3 trillion pounds of these crops, 5.2 billion pounds of animal products (meat, milk, and eggs) could be produced.

There's an environmental component too, as food loss often results in increased pressure to meet demands for some food items. This rushed effort takes the spotlight away from sustainable practices and can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, low water supplies, and a decrease in biodiversity.

"Reducing losses from the global food system would improve food security and help prevent environmental harm," Peter Alexander, a researcher at Edinburgh University's school of geosciences, says in a statement. "Until now, it was not known how overeating impacts the system. Not only is it harmful to health, we found that overeating is bad for the environment and impairs food security."

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