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UN announces first-ever global standard to measure food loss and waste

FAO graphic showing food wastage around the world
A partnership of leading international organizations, including the United Nations, has announced the launch of a first-ever global standard to measure food loss and waste while at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2016 Summit currently underway in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard) is a set of global definitions and reporting requirements for companies, countries and others to consistently and credibly measure, report on and manage food loss and waste. The standard comes as a growing number of governments, companies and other entities are making commitments to reduce food loss and waste.
“The scale of the problem of food loss and waste can be difficult to comprehend,” said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said.
“Having this new standard by which to measure food loss and waste will not only help us understand just how much food is not making it to our mouths, but will help set a baseline for action,” he continued.
Welcoming the new FLW Standard, Mr. Steiner said UNEP calls on countries and companies to use it to start measuring and reporting food loss and waste, in parallel to taking action to deliver on SDG Target 12.3: Halve food waste by 2030.
According to the UN, an estimated one-third of all food is lost or wasted worldwide as it moves from where it is produced to where it is eaten, even as more than 800 million people are undernourished. In addition, food loss and waste globally costs up to $940 billion per year.
Meanwhile, food loss and waste generates about 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates indicate that if it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the United States.
Major breakthrough
“This standard is a real breakthrough,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute. “For the first time, armed with the standard, countries and companies will be able to quantify how much food is lost and wasted, where it occurs, and report on it in a highly credible and consistent manner.”
He noted that there is simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted: “Now, we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources and ensure more people get the food they need,” Mr. Steer added.
Furthermore, UNEP highlighted that international momentum to curb food loss and waste is growing with governments and businesses making commitments to address this issue. However, most do not know how much food is lost or wasted or where it occurs within their borders, operations or supply chains. Moreover, the definition of food loss and waste varies widely and without a consistent accounting and reporting framework it has been difficult to compare data and develop effective strategies.
Finally, the FLW Standard will also help reduce food loss and waste within the private sector. In 2015, the Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, adopted a resolution for its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50 per cent by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the FLW Standard.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations (FAO), studies show that more than 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year around the world due to various reasons.
In Africa and developing or low income countries, poor infrastructure and undeveloped production are the main causes of food loss.
Global Greenhouse Gases (GHG)
However, unknown to many, studies have now revealed that food waste is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Greenhouse gas emissions result in climate change which is blamed for causing droughts, floods, diseases, food shortages and water scarcity among others.
According to FAO, food waste is estimated to contribute 3.3 Gt of CO2 equivalent in climate change and mitigation measures are required to reverse this trend.
The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified the mitigation potential of food losses and waste to be 0.6-6.0 Gt CO2 eq per year of GHG emission savings in 2050.
Lawyer Lydia Omuko, an environmental expert says there’s a high rate of food wastage in Africa yet the continent has a very high rate of poverty and undernourishment.
“The difference with the food wastage in developed countries is that in developed countries, it occurs at the consumer level while in developing countries, Kenya included, it occurs earlier in supply chain, especially during processing and transportation,” she notes.
Food waste in Africa blamed on poor food transportation, processing, storage and cooling
Ms Omuko said Africa and Kenya’s food wastage has been attributed to, firstly inadequate infrastructure for food transportation, processing, storage and cooling, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of food wastage.
“Secondly, the “European Cosmetic Standards” accounts for approximately 15 – 30 percent of food wastage, mainly from vegetables and fruits. The fruits and vegetables are usually rejected by European supermarkets for being the wrong size, shape or simply for not being attractive,” she adds.
Ms Omuko concedes that indeed, food wastage is a big contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
“In 2013, FAO released a report that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest carbon emitter in the world after the US and China,” she says.
According to the report, food wastage is the largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions after China and the USA.
Considering the amount of food wasted in Kenya and Africa in general, its contribution to the continent’s emission is relatively high.
Mitigation measures need to be put in place
Ms Omuko says there are many examples of mitigation measures that need to be put in place.
She gave the example of a horticultural company called Vegpro Limited in Kenya which had come up with measures to deal with food wastage.
“After the fresh produce and flowers for export are produced, wastes such as spent vegetables, vegetable out grades, rose rejects and farm produced “green crops” that are left are decomposed and used as fertilizer for the farm,” she revealed.
In addition to using them as fertilizer, the company is using the horticultural waste for producing biogas. The company has set up a biogas plant within its Gorge farm.
The plant is fed with approximately 120 tonnes of organic waste, not just from its own farms but also from farms nearby. The plant is expected to add 2.4 MW of electricity to the national grid.
“Considering that the food wastage in Kenya and Africa in general occurs at the early stages in the food supply chain, food redistribution would reduce the food wastage. This basically means taking unused, edible food that has been rejected by the “cosmetic markets” and redistributing to the people who need it,” she added.
Ms Omuko said this will require improved infrastructure specifically a good transportation and storage system to enable redistribute the food to the readily available market.
“The other obvious thing to do would be to use the wasted vegetables to feed animals,” she observed.


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