Alarming, staggering figures: nearly half of all vegetables and fruit is not consumed, but is 'lost' at some point. Most wasteful areas are the production and consumers' homes.
Only 54% eventually consumed
The losses appear to happen in every phase of the chain: from the production to the consumer at home. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the biggest loss (20%) occurs in the production phase. Causes are manifold: predators and insects, damage inflicted during harvesting and the process of sorting out in accordance with the customers’ quality standards (supermarkets and manufacturers), but also the failure to balance supply and demand, causing quite a lot of vegetables and fruit to be left behind in the fields unharvested.
Another 5.5% gets lost during post-harvest handling and processing, while about 7.5% is wasted in the distribution phase. Consumers are responsible for 13% of the loss, either because we dispose of good food or we keep it too long or at the wrong temperature. In the end, only 54% of all fruit and vegetables is consumed.
Minimize loss, raise awareness and recycle
As part of the European research project “Veg-i-Trade”, scientists of the universities of Ghent and Wageningen are trying to find ways to minimize the loss in the vegetable and fruit chain. Among their tools are statistical models that will enable us to predict decay. “These models can be used by food manufacturers, carriers and supermarkets to improve planning and logistics”, says Mieke Uyttendaele, project coordinator.
Consumers should also change their habits: on a website dedicated to food, people are encouraged to eat more seasonal products, stop disposing of leftovers and use them in soup or jam, hold a “weekly leftover hotchpotch day” and, last but not least, stop buying more than they need or are able to consume.