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Up to half the world's food goes to waste claims U.K. study

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How much of last week's grocery haul did you dump? (iStock)

As much as half of the world's food never makes it to a human stomach, a report by the U.K.-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers claims.

The study highlights inadequate storage facilities, rigid sell-by dates, bulk sales and consumer pickiness as key factors that help generate the waste, which the IMechE researchers peg at around two billion tonnes per year.

"The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world's growing population - as well as those in hunger today," said Dr. Tim Fox, IMechE's head of energy and environment.

The figure is a ballpark estimate based on data by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

The organization also claims that some 30 per cent of vegetable crops are not even harvested because they do not meet aesthetic standards expected by the grocery store - a significant loss of edible but perhaps unappealing food, like bruised or oddly shaped fruits and vegetables.

Fox said the wastefulness extends to the way in which land, water and energy resources are used in the production, processing and distribution of these food products.

"If you're in the developing world, then the losses are in the early part of the food supply chain, so between the field and the marketplace," Fox said on BBC's Today programme.

"In the mature, developed economies the waste is really down to poor marketing practices and consumer behaviour."

Waste a "tragedy"

The scale of the problem is widely thought to be considerable; however, some experts have criticized the report authors for extrapolating data and applying it to a complex global food system. Some say reliable numbers are hard to pin down.

Still, the IMechE researchers say the problem is at tragic levels.

"This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands," the report authors note in their executive summary, adding that by 2075 the UN's mid-range projection is a world of some 9.5 billion people.

"This means that there could be an extra three billion mouths to feed by the end of the century."

How much of your perishable food purchases typically end up in the trash? How often does food go bad before you can eat it? How often is it still good, but no longer appealing to you?

Does your household have strategies to avoid food waste or make use of it?

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on reader replies.)

Tags: Health, World

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