To hear some people talk we don't need to increase production to sustain the ever-growing global population: we should simply stop wasting food. This is fertile ground for those who like to remind us that, according to the FAO, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted along the global food chain. One third, really?
As serious as the problem may seem, it is too often discussed with misleading statistics and used for sensationalist purposes. Even the FAO agrees that it is incredibly difficult to get a clear portrait of food losses and waste on a global scale. Beyond the approximated nature of the data, the method used in its calculation leaves us even more bewildered. Adding food losses (as the result of production and processing) to food waste (retail and consumer), the FAO includes elements in its calculations that are very far from our usual notion of food wastage. For example, their data includes grain sifted and disposed of along with the combine's crop residue, animals that have died on the farm as well as carcases downgraded and discarded at the slaughterhouse. This is a wide-ranging definition, very wide-ranging.
The bottom line is that the numbers are nothing but estimates. Regardless. This is a fundamental issue and we should focus on the facts. Most of the work that needs to be done in emerging countries has to start with the first links in the chain, the initial processes. Proper grain storage installations are needed to stave off vermin. Solid infrastructures and efficient transportation methods are also needed to ensure adequate management of the cold chain. So we can expect substantial developments in this respect because ensuring food security of large urban populations will undoubtedly increase the grocery trade.
As for industrialized nations, the link we must all focus on is consumer consumption. In Europe or here at home, the extent of food wastage often symbolizes occidental selfishness to poverty-stricken nations. We need to acknowledge that, at some level or another, we are all guilty of wasting food. Our behaviour obviously leaves room for improvement! During a special event or party who hasn't felt a pang of guilt watching buffet leftovers going back into the kitchen and wonder where they're going to end up? But food waste is also a consequence of the very stringent regulations we implemented to handle animals and keep food safe and healthy. It is these same regulations that cause the downgrading of carcasses and their disposal, which ultimately are calculated as losses. We shouldn't punish ourselves for implementing strict standards that make sure the food products placed on our shelves meet the highest standards of salubrity.
Ultimately, we know that it will take much more than good intentions to significantly reduce food wastage. It will also take huge financial investments.