Food loss: Why is our food disappearing?


To feed ten billion people theoretically wouldn't be a problem. In practice, the situation is different. For example, food is lost along the entire supply chain. In a graph, GDI researchers summarise important reasons and drivers.

The following text and the graph are based on an excerpt from the new "European Food Trends Report", which you can order on our website.

The global food system has a lot of potential: According to a study by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems more than ten billion people could be fed without disturbing the ecological system. Reality is a different story. One in three people on earth is malnourished and more than 820 million suffer from hunger - at the same time, millions of people overeat and an estimated third of all food worldwide is lost or wasted each year.

This loss is due to various factors, like poor infrastructure, non-functioning markets, price mechanisms or lack of regulatory framework. In low-income countries, food is more likely to be lost in the early and middle stages of the supply chain, perhaps when the climate was too dry and seeds couldn’t grow. In industrialised countries, losses are more frequent at the consumption level. In Europe and North America, for example, approximately 95 to 115 kilograms of food waste are produced per capita each year. In sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, it is 6 to 11 kilograms.

Food waste--the throwing away and waste of usable food--is a form of food loss. This includes all forms of loss of food produced for human consumption but not eaten by humans. The reasons for food loss can be pest infestation, failure during harvesting, storage, or transportation, or food waste that occurs throughout the entire value network, from primary production to the final consumer. For example, fresh products in the supply chain that differ from the standard in terms of size, shape and colour are sorted out;they are removed from the system because they would not be purchased.

We all contribute in some way to the loss of food and are thus jointly responsible for the consequences. By being more aware of food, we could help to ensure not only that less is wasted, but less is produced at all. The result would be a global reduction in the consumption of resources like water and land. This in turn would have a positive impact on the climate and thus on food production in those areas particularly affected by climate change and where people are suffering from hunger.