I was astounded to hear that as much as half of the food produced in the world does not reach people’s stomachs. According to a new report from the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) between 1.2 and 2.0 billion tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it onto a plate.

The IME’s report Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, says that the “staggering” new figures can be largely attributed to the way in which supermarkets deal in food. Strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one-free offers and the rejection of misshapen produce mean that huge amounts of food that have been produced on farms around the world are never consumed. Author Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IME, said that over a lifetime an average household will throw away up to £24,000 worth of food.

So, why are we being told to ramp up production? Do you remember the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project, produced a year ago? According to the report ‘sustainable intensification’ is required to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population. Yet, we already throw away half of the food produced in the world!

The current food system is built on delivering healthy margins for retailers rather than healthy diets for citizens and this is detrimental to the well being of the entire world. Farmers are going out of business, the welfare of farm animals is under threat and the health of the population is being compromised by the drive to sell us food we really don’t need.

Too much of the simple foodstuffs we produce on our farms are treated as cheap commodities – milk being a classic example. If we are to put a stop to this dreadful waste we need to promote the real value of healthy foods, such as milk produced from pasture-based herds and stop farmers being used as cannon fodder in price war between greedy retailers. When we waste food we waste precious resources such as water, energy and oil. But, we also waste lives – the lives of the animals which produce our food. The ethics of livestock farming are often called into question but we should spend more time examining the ethics of supermarket practice and shopping habits.

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