Famine or Feast? Britain alone wastes 20 million tons of food a year

Crikes, the story would have passed me by if Alan’s blog hadn’t alerted me to it. I’m getting slack in my old age. Hot on the heels of two earlier postings (here and here) on world food shortages and how the UN is begging for $500 million to help provide food assistance to the world’s starving millions, comes news that Britain is throwing away half of all the food produced on farms, according to the starkest estimate yet of the amount of edible produce we

The Independent reports: “About 20m tons of food is thrown out each year: equivalent to half of the food import needs for the whole of Africa. Some 16m tons of this is wasted in homes, shops, restaurants, hotels and food manufacturing. Much of the rest is thought to be destroyed between the farm field and the shop shelf.”

The cost of the waste is put at a staggetring £20 billion ($40 billion) and eighty times the amount that the UN is asking for to feed the starving largely in Africa and Asia.

Forty-four per-cent of the population of Burundi is starving – that’s bout 4 million people. The food thrown away in the UK last year would meet the equivalent of Burundi's shortages more than 40 times over.

Lord Haskins of Skidby, a former government adviser on rural affairs and chairman of Northern Foods has urged governments to press their citizens to help "avoid disaster by dramatically reducing the ... unacceptable levels of food waste, which are a shameful feature of most modern consumer societies". He called recent controversy over supermarkets' free distribution of plastic bags "a red herring". He argued, "If consumers ate a bit less and wasted a bit less you'd help to solve the problem. If the world was vegetarian then you'd solve the problem completely." One-third of wheat grown globally is fed to livestock reared to end up on the dinner table.

Tony Lowe, the chief executive of FareShare, the national food charity, said: "Unfortunately, we live in a world where many people do not have access to food in general, and good-quality food specifically, while at the same time millions of tons of perfectly fine food are being disposed of. In the UK alone, the extent of food poverty is staggering, as millions of people with low or no income find it harder to access affordable, nutritious food."

If this is the amount of food wasted in tiny Britain, then it begs the question just how much is thrown away each year globally. Whilst we have over 800 million on this planet chronically malnourished, the simple truth must be that the earth produces enough food to make the planet morbidly obese. As ever, the profit motive kicks in and whether you are obese or emaciated depends, as ever, on your purchasing power.

Meanwhile, the Independent provides a list of ten tips to help cut the waste mountain. Note this is not ten tips to stop global hunger, like abolishing capitalism, freeing production from the artificial constraints of profit and establishing a global system of free access to the necessaries of life! While critical of the current global food “crisis” the Independent simply accepts capitalism is here to stay and suggests individuals change their personal habits. The master class gets off ‘scot free’ again!

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