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ANALYSIS

CEC releases report on food loss & waste, covering Canada, US & Mexico
Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Montreal
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) recently released Characterisation and Management of Food Loss and Waste in North America, a comprehensive report on the state of food loss and waste in Canada, Mexico and the United States developed through the CEC’s North American Initiative on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery.

It documented the adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts of food loss and waste, and actions that the industrial, commercial, institutional, government and non-governmental sectors can implement to mitigate these impacts.

The report was released as a complement to a recently-announced CEC report, which was titled Characterisation and Management of Organic Waste in North America, and a part of its two-year project, the North American Initiative on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery.

The project examines the impacts of food loss and waste on food security, the economy and the environment by calculating its impacts, and providing tools and education to prevent and reduce those impacts.

Food loss and waste in North America
The report estimated that 168 million tonne of food are wasted in North America each year, with Americans wasting 415kg (915lb) per capita, Canadians 396kg (873lb) per capita and Mexicans 249kg (549lb) per capita.

With notable differences between the three countries, it found that the largest share of food loss and waste in North America, 67 million tonne (MT) per year, occurred at the consumer level.

While 52 MT are wasted at the industrial, commercial, and institutional levels, 49 MT are wasted at the pre-harvest level. These losses represent a huge waste of social, economic and natural resources and have significant environmental impacts.
 
The report went beyond highlighting the large amount of food loss and waste in the North American food supply chain. It also provided a closer examination of the primary causes and potential solutions to reduce the problem, focusing on overproduction, product damage, lack of standardised date labelling practices, the lack of cold chain infrastructure, rigid food-grading specifications, and varying customer demand and market fluctuations.

A key finding was that distributors, retailers, food rescue organisations and food service providers had a critical role to play in realising solutions.
 
“As we build a greater understanding about the impact of food loss and waste on our economy and environment, we must also commit ourselves to take action on source reduction and food rescue and recovery, at all stages of the food supply chain,” said César Rafael Chávez, executive director, CEC.

“Our aim with this report is to establish a baseline and identify an array of tools and strategies that will enable each sector of the food supply chain to make reducing these losses a reality,” he added.
 
Environmental and socio-economic impacts of food loss and waste  
The report estimated that the annual environmental and socio-economic impacts of food loss and waste across North America were stark. They included:
    • 193 MT of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from the life-cycle of wasted food, from production to disposal (equal to the GHG emissions generated by 41 million cars driven continuously for a year)
    • 17.6 billion cu m of water wasted
    • 22.1 million ha or almost 55 million acre of cropland production wasted
    • 38.6 million cu m of landfill space used
    • $278 billion in market value of annual food production lost

Solutions
The report outlined several key areas of opportunity to address food loss and waste in the industrial, commercial, and institutional sectors:
    • Source reduction: Reducing food waste at the source through inventory management and offering reduced portion sizes in foodservice to reduce plate waste, increasing the marketability of produce by accepting and integrating second-grade produce into retail settings (typically at a discount), storage and transportation improvements to maintain quality, and collaboration between stakeholders to standardise date labels so they are clear and consistent to reduce confusion at all stages of the food supply chain
    • Rescue for human consumption: Encouraging donation of safe and nutritious food that would otherwise be wasted, through financial incentives for food donation, liability protection for food donors, online food rescue platforms, expanded funding to improve infrastructure, and donation-tracking in food rescue and recovery systems

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food loss and waste, the report listed source reduction, food rescue and recovery as having the greatest potentials for savings on greenhouse gas emissions and as preferable to recycling. Disposal was identified as the least preferable approach.
 
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