Experts call for more to be done to tackle food waste

VALERIE KOH Today Online 27 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — Up to one-third of food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted. In South Asia and South-east Asia, 414 calories from food produced for human consumption end up uneaten per person each day. But even in the face of these glaring World Bank statistics, countries around the region continue to lack the political will to address this, said a former food security researcher at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Speaking at a dialogue at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development yesterday, Ms Sally Trethewie said there is a lack of a policy framework targeting food loss and waste in the region. “Perhaps one clever way to go about it is to make food loss and waste synonymous with food security,” she said. “For so long, the focus has always been on food security and producing enough food to feed us.”

Food loss is defined as food discarded during production and processing, while food waste is food thrown away at the retail and consumer levels.

Food loss is less prevalent in Singapore, given the nation’s reliance on food imports. But food waste is skyrocketing, with a whopping 796,000 tonnes generated last year, past figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA) showed. In South-east Asia, food loss and wastage is spurred by several issues, said Ms Trethewie, now a senior consultant with Bell Pottinger.

For instance, the adoption of modern technologies in the early stages of the supply chain is relatively low.Little attention is also paid to recycling food. In Singapore, a marginal 13 per cent of the food waste generated was recycled last year, said the NEA, below the food recycling rate of 16 per cent in 2010. But little information on food loss or waste is known, added Ms Trethewie.

Ms Aleksandra Barnes, another speaker at the dialogue, agreed and pointed out the lack of transparency around food waste, which she felt was the first step towards long-term change in this area.

Once the head of Tesco’s group corporate responsibility arm, Ms Barnes said the giant supermarket chain, in an effort to provide greater transparency, revealed this year that an estimated 56,580 tonnes of food were wasted at its stores and distribution centres during 2013-2014. Tesco took active steps to reduce food waste by liaising with its suppliers. Said Ms Barnes: “For example, we were establishing direct relations with banana suppliers and telling them, ‘Don’t put aside your small bananas or the ones that are not going to be winning any beauty contests. Send them to us and we’ll put them into value packs or process those bananas in the store and put them in milkshakes.’”

The supermarket also targeted consumers by providing, for instance, recipes for leftover cheese. Back home, local supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice is making reducing food waste a mission. Last month, it announced it would roll out a structured framework to address food waste early next year. Plans include enhancing and implementing internal processes and creating greater awareness of the issue among customers.