World wastes 1 billion tons of food a year
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The United Nations said Wednesday that about 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year, which amounts to roughly one third of all the food produced for human consumption.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization commissioned a report on food loss and waste as rising prices and diminished production worldwide have contributed to an increase in food insecurity.
"The issue of food losses is of high importance in the efforts to combat hunger, raise income and improve food security in the world's poorest countries," the report states. "Food losses have an impact on food security for poor people, on food quality and safety, on economic development and on the environment."
According to the report, food losses occur as a result of inefficiencies in food production and processing operations that diminish supplies. Food waste, by contrast, is when retailers and consumers throw edible food in the trash.
Consumers in rich nations waste a combined 222 million tons a year, according to the report. That's almost as much as all the food produced in sub-Saharan Africa.
The report puts much of the blame on retailers in rich nations that throw out food simply because it looks unappealing, and the food industry's 'all-you-can-eat' marketing tactics, which encourage consumers to buy more than they need.
Food price hikes could push millions to poverty
"Perhaps one of the most important reasons for food waste at the consumption level in rich countries is that people simply can afford to waste food," the report states.
Food loss, on the other hand, is mainly a problem in the developing world, where nations lack the infrastructure and technology to efficiently produce food, according to the report.
"Given that many [small] farmers in developing countries live on the margins of food insecurity, a reduction in food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihood," the report states.
But food is not the only resource that is being wasted. By throwing away so much food, the world is squandering water, land, energy, labor and capital, the report found.
How much have your food bills gone up this year?
To reduce food loss, the report recommends increasing investment in the developing world to make food production more efficient.
In rich countries, the report recommends educating consumers about the extent and consequences of food waste. It also suggests that retailers should relax quality standards and sell produce that is grown closer to where it is sold.
The report says retailers should find ways to make better use of food that would otherwise be thrown out, such as donating it to charity.
Consumers should plan their food purchases more carefully, making sure to consume perishables before the expiration date, according to the report.