UN targets food wastage in fight against global warming

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is encouraging the public and governments to support food-saving measures and legislation that will help businesses manage food waste better.
Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 15;

BANGKOK: Food waste and global hunger go hand-in-hand but disposed food also contributes to global warming.

Each year, US$1.3 trillion worth of food is wasted. This is equivalent to throwing out every fifth bag of shopping the developed world buys, uneaten.

The United Nations has pledged to cut food waste by 50 per cent by the year 2030, as part of its agenda for sustainable development. It warns that if this target is not met, there will be insufficient food to feed the world's growing population.

“By the middle of the century we need to increase food production by about 60 per cent to feed the current and growing population,” said Kaveh Zahedi, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

“One way of doing that is by ensuring there is less food wasted, because otherwise you have to expand your agricultural land, which means more deforestation, more devastation of pristine land to try and reach our agricultural needs.”

Figures collected in Singapore suggest that the average household wastes up to 130kg of food per year. At the same time 90 million people worldwide rely on food relief.

To raise awareness about food waste, UNEP and Australian NGO Oz Harvest gathered gourmet chefs in the heart of Bangkok to show the public that wasted food is not always bad food.

The chefs successfully fed up to 2,000 people entirely on food waste, such as rice originally meant to be used as animal feed.

Oz Harvest says all rescued food must be safe and handled by food professionals. Most of what constitutes waste is actually food that is visually unappealing, rather than rotten.

“Everyday supermarkets, delis, hotels, boardrooms, producers, manufacturers and growers have food that they deem is not what we as consumers want to buy,” said Ronni Kahn, CEO and founder of Oz Harvest. “That food will get picked up from the supermarkets and all of those places and delivered, real time, directly to vulnerable people.”

Public awareness is only the first step to reducing waste. Oz Harvest says rescuing food saves businesses the cost of sending waste produce to landfill sites, but governments need to introduce a framework for these businesses to follow.

“We can reduce taxes and encourage spare food, extra food, what would normally go into food waste to be given away,” said Zahedi. “This just shows you the potential for what we could do if we had legislation in place that could promote it.”

It is not just about reducing hunger. UNEP says research shows that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest carbon emitter behind China and the United States.

While programmes like this are successful in countries such as France and Australia, the challenge in Asia is to educate the public about the benefits of reducing food waste, not just savings to our pockets, but the environment too.

- CNA/ec

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