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Coalition launches global food loss and waste standard

Annie Baxter Jun 6, 2016
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A prep cook at a San Francisco restaurant drops apple skins into a food scrap recycling container.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A coalition of international organizations launched the first-ever global standard to measure food loss and waste on Monday. The World Resources Institute, a global research organization, orchestrated the effort.

Many companies and countries, including the U.S., have set big food waste reduction goals. But until now, they lacked common definitions and reporting requirements. 

Robert van Otterdijk is with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which helped craft the standard with the goal of eradicating hunger. He said a big achievement of the standard is to define wasted or lost food as specifically concerning food grown for human consumption.

“If it’s still good enough to be used as compost or animal food in some, places people will say, ‘No, the food is not wasted because we still make good use of it,’” he said. “But we say, ‘No, it is not available for people to eat anymore.’”

Van Otterdijk said reducing food waste and loss of that nature will help improve food security.

Worldwide, an estimated one-third of all food is lost or wasted. For example, it may be pitched, uneaten, by consumers. Or it may rot either in farm fields or on its way to market, which experts said happens most often in developing countries that lack robust infrastructure.

The new standard gets users to do things like report the physical amount of food lost or wasted by weight and potentially track it over time. For grocers, that could mean measuring and tracking levels of tossed produce. 

Sasha Stashwick, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, said taking such measurements is an important first step to fixing the problem of reducing food waste. But she noted the new standard is voluntary.

“So a lot is going to depend on countries actually stepping up and using it,” she said.

The World Resources Institute said worldwide, food loss and waste cost up to $940 billion a year.