Global Food Chain Riddled with Food Waste

As part of BNY Mellon’s global initiative to raise awareness of food security and waste, R. Jeep Bryant, executive vice president for marketing and corporate affairs, shares his thoughts on the issues. This is the last in a four-part series.

Global Food Chain Riddled with Food Waste

We’re often reminded of how difficult life was when everyone lived off the land and depended on what they grew to survive. They were at the mercy of the elements and hoped their crops wouldn’t be destroyed by early frosts or pests. If their crops survived, storing the food and keeping it fresh were great challenges. 

Sitting here in 2013, I wonder – how much has really changed?

Agriculture is still the main source of income and employment for a vast majority of the world’s poor, and close to four-fifths of food in the developing world comes from small farms. If there’s enough food produced to feed everyone who is hungry – and there is – then why do more than 850 million people (link to infographic) still not have enough to eat?

Because all over the world, losses and waste occur at every stage of the food chain.

Farmers sometimes grow more than they need to ensure that they’re able to fulfill supply agreements with supermarket chains, and crops are often not harvested or sold because they don’t meet certain standards of appearance. In regions that depend on manual harvesting, manpower is an issue – if there aren’t enough people available to harvest the crops, it won’t get done.

And since most farmed food is perishable, storage remains an issue. Food being stored can’t be too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold – improper conditions can cause food to spoil. Transportation is also a critical issue – food can get lost or wasted or ruined in transit

None of that takes into account, of course, the food that we personally waste. From the ever present but hardly touched bread baskets that appear on restaurant tables to the milk cartons we throw out because they say they’ve expired, a tremendous amount of the food we buy or are served never gets consumed. It’s been estimated that American families throw out nearly 25 percent of the food they buy, and that in the UK, nearly 20 percent of food is thrown out because people are confused by the label dates.

So what can we do?

Investments in infrastructure are needed to reduce waste at the production, post-harvest and processing stages – and those issues are being studied and addressed on a macro scale by organizations around the world, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Bank Group to name a few.

As individual consumers, we can do a lot. For starters, we can take a hard look at how we personally handle food and make adjustments. And we can support agencies that address waste through a food rescue approach, such as FareShare in London or Food Angel in Hong Kong, and encourage the restaurants and supermarkets we frequent to partner with them. I know I’d feel better about my favorite lunch spot if I knew that at the end of the day they donated their unsold sandwiches so they could be distributed to local food pantries and soup kitchens instead of throwing them out. Wouldn’t you?


See also:

Learn more about our World Food Day and Community Partnership Campaign.