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Food loss and waste ‘an ethical outrage’, UN chief says on International Day

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Fresh fruits and vegetables at a farmers' market in Hungary. © FAO/G. Agostinucci

New approaches and solutions are needed to address worsening food loss and waste, the UN Secretary-General has said, in a message marking the first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Reduction.

Last year, the UN General Assembly designated 29 September as the International Day, recognizing the fundamental role that sustainable food production plays in promoting food security and nutrition and highlighting the essential need to reduce food loss and waste.

In addition, with the COVID-19 pandemic underlining the fragility of food systems, and worsening food loss and waste in many countries, Secretary-General António Guterres called for “new approaches and solutions” to solve the challenges.

“Food loss and waste is an ethical outrage. In a world with enough food to feed all people, everywhere, 690 million people continue to go hungry and 3 billion cannot afford a healthy diet,” he said.

Squandering natural resources

“Food loss and waste also squanders natural resources – water, soil and energy, not to mention human labour and time. It worsens climate change, given the significant role of agriculture in generating greenhouse gas emissions,” added Mr. Guterres.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), around 14 per cent of food produced globally is lost between harvest and retail, with significant quantities also wasted at the retail and consumption levels. The figure is higher in the case of fruits and vegetables, where more than 20 per cent is lost.

When food is loss or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce it – including water, land, energy, labour and capital – go to waste. In addition, the disposal of food loss and waste in landfills, leads to greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change, said FAO.

Sustainable Development Goals

The critical issue of reducing food waste is also highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with Goals 2 and 12 calling for achieving zero hunger, and halving food waste and reducing food loss by 2030, respectively.

“While many countries are taking action, we need to step up efforts,” said the Secretary-General, highlighting that the inaugural observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste comes as the world prepare for the 2021 Food Systems Summit.

“I urge countries to set a reduction target aligned with SDG 12, measure their food loss and waste and act boldly to reduce it. Policy action in this area should also be included in climate plans under the Paris Agreement [on Climate Change],” he said.

Many businesses should take a similar approach, continued Mr. Guterres, calling on Individuals to shop carefully, store food correctly and make good use of leftovers.

“Let us work together to reduce food loss and waste for the benefit of people and our planet,” added the Secretary-General.