Children in the United Arab Emirates on World Environment Day. Photo: UNEP

Children in the United Arab Emirates on World Environment Day. Photo: UNEP

NEW YORK – With tons of edible produce squandered each year – never  making it from farm to fork – senior United Nations officials are issuing a  call on World Environment Day to “reduce your foodprint!,” urging everyone to help  curb the massive loss and waste inherent in today’s food systems.

“On this World Environment Day, I urge all actors in the  global food chain to take responsibility for environmentally sustainable and  socially equitable food systems,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his  message for the Day.

Currently at least one third of all food produced fails to  make it from farm to table.  “This is  foremost an affront to the hungry, but it also represents a massive  environmental cost in terms of energy, land and water,” the UN chief said,  noting that in developing countries, pests,  inadequate storage facilities and inefficient supply chains are major  contributors to food loss.

Those who grow for export are also often at the mercy of  over-stringent expectations of buyers who place a premium on cosmetic  perfection.  In developed nations, food  thrown away by households and the retail and catering industries rots in landfills, releasing significant quantities of methane,  a powerful greenhouse gas.

“Food loss and waste is something we can all address,” Mr.  Ban said, noting that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN  Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and public and private sector partners  have launched the <em>“Think.Eat.Save: Reduce  Your Foodprint”</em> campaign to raise global awareness and showcase solutions  relevant to developed and developing countries alike.

The Secretary-General explained that infrastructure and  technology can reduce the amount of food that perishes after it is harvested  and before it reaches the market. Governments in developing countries can work  to improve essential infrastructure and maximize trade opportunities with  neighbours; developed nations can support fair trade and rationalize sell-by  dates and other labelling systems; businesses can revise their criteria for  rejecting produce; and consumers can minimize waste by buying only what they  need and re-using left-over food.

The current global population of 7 billion is expected to  grow to 9 billion by 2050.  But the  number of hungry people need not increase. “By reducing food waste, we can save  money and resources, minimize environmental impacts and, most importantly, move  towards a world where everyone has enough to eat,” Mr. Ban said.

The scale of the food waste issue is highlighted in a new  report, released today to coincide with World Environment Day (WED), which  found out that one out of every four calories produced by the global  agricultural system is being lost or wasted.

According to the study ‘Reducing Food Loss and Waste,’ which  was produced by the World Resources Institute and UNEP and draws from FAO  research, the world will need about 60 per cent more food calories in 2050  compared to 2006 if global demand continues on its current trajectory.

“It is an extraordinary fact that in the 21st century, close  to 25 per cent of all the calories linked with growing and producing food are  lost or wasted between the farm and the fork—food that could feed the hungry,  food that has required energy, water and soils in a world of increasing natural  resource scarcities and environmental concerns including climate change,” said  Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, drawing attention to the absurdity that  high volumes of perfectly edible produce are never consumed.

“The menu of case studies and recommendations in this study  provide national and community-led solutions that ally smart policies with  traditional knowledge, modern science and common sense,” he added, referring to  the study’s recommendations.

Through this year’s WED campaign, the UN and its partners are  inviting people across the world to join in an effort to raise awareness and  take practical actions “whether in your home, whether on your farm, whether in  the supermarket, in a canteen, in a hotel or anywhere else where food is  prepared and consumed.”

This year’s global host for the Day is Mongolia, one  of the fastest growing economies in the world and one that is aiming for a  transition to a green economy and a green civilization. “It is not a big waster  or loser of food, but the traditional and nomadic life of many of its people  does have some ancient answers to the modern-day challenge of food waste,” Mr.  Steiner said.

The Mongol General Chinggis Khan and his troops utilized a  traditional food called “borts” to gallop across Asia  without depending on elaborate supply chains. Borts, he explained, is basically  concentrated beef equal to the protein of an entire cow but condensed and  ground down to the size of a human fist. “This remarkable method of food  preservation, without refrigeration, meant a meal equivalent to several steaks  when the protein was shaved into hot water to make soup,” he said.

In advance of WED, UNEP has also been compiling similar  examples of traditional and indigenous knowledge from familiar techniques such  as pickling or salting fish to the smoking of meat, the drying of fruit and  other techniques employed by the Inuits to preserve seabirds which are served  later at feasts and weddings.

WED is being observed in many countries today, including in Iraq, where at  least 1.9 million people are food deprived and 4 million are vulnerable to food  insecurity. Resident Humanitarian Coordinator Jacqueline Badcock stressed that  taking care of the environment is crucial to address food insecurity in the  country, which increasingly relies on imports to meet its food needs due to  poor environmental management.

“It is essential that the Government continues to put in  place the policies and good environmental practices that will re-establish  Iraqi agriculture and ensure food supply for the most vulnerable,” she said.


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