- Berman Institute Bioethics Bulletin - http://bioethicsbulletin.org -

Food Doubly Wasted

By Joanna Mackenzie

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) [1], almost one-third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. That’s about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year.

This staggering number, in developing countries, is the result of multiple deficiencies in infrastructure, leading to food spoilage during post-production harvesting, storage and transportation.

In contrast, in developed countries food is wasted due to producers’ and retailers’ decision to discard surpluses or products that do not meet quality, weight and appearance norms, as well as consumers’ behavior.

The shear fact that one-third of the world’s food production is wasted, while one-eighth [2] of the population cannot access even 1,800 calories per capita per day, is morally troubling, to say the least.

Some would argue that addressing food wastage is a matter of great moral urgency because it contributes to the problem of individuals’ unfulfilled right to food.

Others would simply claim that a global food system that allows such astonishing amount of food waste to occur is fundamentally inefficient and can be morally criticized for that reason.

But the moral criticism of food waste goes beyond the legitimate concern for feeding the world’s population. Indeed, food waste undermines human wellbeing and violates our obligations to future generations through its effects on climate change, water use, and land use.

These are the problems the FAO’s Food Wastage Footprint Impacts on Natural Resources Report [3] released in September systematically analyzes for the first time on a global scale — taking into account the entire food supply chain from production to consumption. Here are some of the report’s most significant findings:

Why is the impact of food waste on natural resources particularly problematic from an ethical standpoint? Most types of agricultural production generate negative externalities, but, food wasted is doubly wasted. The loss of natural resources due to food waste is not offset by any benefit to society. Food discarded or spoiled does not feed empty bellies and results in economic loss, undermining the livelihood of many individuals and families along the food supply chain.

Joanna Mackenzie is a Registered Dietitian and Research Assistant for the Global Food Ethics Project [4] at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.  She is also working towards obtaining an MSPH in Health Education and Communication from the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She received a B.S. in Nutrition Science from Russell Sage College in 2010.  Prior to coming to Hopkins, Joanna was a Public Health Nutritionist for the New York State Child and Adult Care Food Program. Previous work included using nutrition interventions to enhance the quality of life of HIV/AIDS populations in upstate New York.

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