Is Food Loss and Food Waste Different?

Food Loss

Food is an indispensable part of each one of our lives, however, the amount of food that is lost and wasted has emerged itself as one of the most pressing food policy issues of the present time. Food loss and food waste occur starting from the fields to the food tables, from the producers to the consumers throughout the food supply chain (FSC). This is a major challenge in the path towards sustainability and food security. Food loss and food waste at each stage of the value chain has greatly triggered over the years and can be attributed to global rapid urbanization, changing population statistics, transitioned dietary patterns, more calorie intake per capita, narrowing agricultural sector, increased globalization of trade, etc. leading to a resultant increase in land and resource scarcity and emission of greenhouse gases. Food loss and food waste is a global problem that we need to take action on. However, in order to do so, we need to understand the differences between food loss and food waste. Keep on reading to learn more about the difference between food loss and food waste.

Understanding Food Loss and Food Waste

Food loss and food waste
As cited by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as much as one-quarter to one-third of all the food produced in the world is wasted and developed countries are known to produce more food loss and food waste than the developing ones. More food loss and food waste result in stress on land resources owing to more food demand leading to greater farm production.
Nations around the world are experiencing clear and quick economic impacts in terms of money deficit and loss of natural resources, environmental repercussions in the form of the greenhouse effect, and social consequences in the form of food insecurity and less individual wellbeing. Approximately 198 kg/capita/year of food is wasted and lost in developing countries (Werf & Gilliland, 2017), even when about 8 million people are malnourished and starving (Ishangulyyey et al., 2019) posing threat to global food insecurity as well as the climate as WWF states that food loss and food waste accounts for eight percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Economics difference between food loss and food waste

Economics of food loss and food waste are intertwined and greatly interlinked, however, the difference needs to be understood:
Food loss occurs at the pre-consumer and initial stages of the food supply chain and can be defined as the food that becomes unavailable for human consumption while passing through the stages of agricultural production, handling, storage, and processing after the harvesting. FAO has defined food loss as the food that was initially fit for human consumption but was deemed unfit and spoiled owing to it being kept beyond its expiry date or for a very long time.
It usually occurs due to factors such as field damages, contamination, microbial attacks, faulty infrastructure, poor market facilities, sorting slip-ups, and spoilage, etc. Kader (2004) asserted that about one-third of the food is lost in the food chain even before reaching the consumers. Food losses can be prevented by promoting local-level investments, awareness, and ensuring improved market facilities.

Food waste occurs at the post-consumer and later stages of the food supply chain and can be defined as the food that becomes unfit for human consumption during the food processing, packaging, transport, distribution, retail, consumption, and service stages. FAO defines food waste as the food that was produced as appropriate for human consumption but underwent a reduction in dry weight and nutritional quality due to a number of factors.
Food waste occurs due to climatic factors, non-mechanized and faulty storage systems, frail technologies and can be prevented by improving the communication throughout the FSC, empowering and informing the consumers, improving the planning at the purchase and consumption level, educating the consumers by providing food labels, strengthening R & D, and applying modern handling technologies. Food waste in developed countries is greatest at the consumption stage.

Why is it important to know food loss and food waste?

A lot of wasted food
Knowing food loss and food waste has far-reaching implications for gaining economic, environmental, and social benefits (Werf & Gilliland, 2017). FAO has set the agenda of reducing food losses as a part of its mandate and sustainability cannot be reached without focusing on food security, reducing individual footprints, and minimizing the stress on natural resources. SDGs have set forth an aim of reducing the amount of food loss and food waste to half by 2030.

Greater knowledge of food loss and food waste will lead to increased productivity, stronger economic growth, reduced pressure on land and water resources, reduced energy consumption, a lesser need for labor and other inputs. One of the biggest gains that can be received by ensuring lesser food loss and food waste is mitigation of climate change as food around the world that is lost and wasted ends up in the landfills and emit methane and CO2 contributing to climate change. In addition, the unwanted and excess food can be donated to feed a number of hungry or needy families. Food recovery can be done at individual levels by allowing source reduction, feeding animals and hungry humans, recycling, and composting, etc.

Coordinated research is needed in order to improve food availability and security. Consumers, intermediaries (such as processors and retailers) as well as producers are responsible for suppressing and recycling food. Policy-makers and strategic machinery need to ensure cooperation between all stakeholders in order to reduce the amount of food that ends up in the landfills eventually and ensure capacity building and infrastructure development in agriculture. The farmers, restaurant owners, grocery store owners, as well as household consumers need to bring desperate changes in their food production, retail, and consumption patterns. Only if we shop smartly, cook smartly and eat smartly we can reduce our individual footprint related to food loss and food waste as our moral as well as social responsibility.

Food Loss and Food Waste are problems we can fix

Smart grocery shopping can help with food loss and waste too
Now that we understand the difference between food loss and food waste, it will be much easier for us to take action. Every tiny step we choose to take will help the earth, and us, in terms of economical and societal benefits. Hopefully, this article has inspired you to take action against food loss and food waste. If so, here are some articles that can help you, first off check out the rising trend of upcycling food waste. Or learn some food waste hacks you can do at home.

Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.

-Pope Francis

Ishangulyyev, R., Kim, S., & Lee, S. H. (2019). Understanding food loss and food waste—Why are we losing and wasting food?. Foods, 8(8), 297.
Kader, A. A. (2004, June). Increasing food availability by reducing postharvest losses of fresh produce. In V International Postharvest Symposium 682 (pp. 2169-2176)
Van der Werf, P., & Gilliland, J. A. (2017, May). A systematic review of food losses and food waste generation in developed countries. In Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers-Waste and Resource Management (Vol. 170, No. 2, pp. 66-77). Thomas Telford Ltd.
Author: Monica Chang
Started my ethical journey in 2010. Always looking for better options for me and the environment.