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The Unintended Consequences of Reducing Food Waste

By Iain Gordon

With the global human population continuing to outpace agricultural production, we may need to reduce the amount of food that we waste. But what will be the unintended consequences for wildlife that depend on food waste?

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Feeding the growing global population is a significant challenge. Indeed, it is expected that we’ll need to produce 70% more food than we do today to feed the estimated 10 billion people who will inhabit our planet in 2050.

The recent debate about how to feed our growing population has focused on increasing production from agricultural systems. This does not portent well for nature. Agriculture does not have a good relationship with biodiversity, which is being lost as land is converted to crops and pastures; air, water and soils are polluted by excesses in nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilisers; and species of insects and birds are killed directly or indirectly by pesticides.

There is another way: reduce the amount of agricultural produce and food we waste. It’s estimated that 30–50% of the 4 billion tonnes of food produced each year is wasted. In developing countries this tends to happen before the crop is harvested or because of poor storage; in developed countries food is thrown away from supermarkets or the fridge once it is past its “sell-by” date or thrown into the bin after the meal in the home.

In North America and Europe this amounts to roughly 95–115 kg/capita/year. Australians throw out about 4 million tonnes of food per year. Much of it goes to landfill.

Reducing food waste would reduce pressure on the agricultural production...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.