Food waste was once more in the news this week, thanks to a House of Lords committee report calling for action to curb this ‘morally repugnant’ issue. Supermarkets were in the firing line for ‘BOGOF’ offers, blamed by committee chairwoman, Baroness Scott, for encouraging “excess consumption” leading to food waste.
In a striking statistic, the committee reportedly described the amount of food discarded by consumers in industrialised nations as equivalent to nearly the entire level of net food production in sub-Saharan Africa.
When it comes to meat and dairy products, food waste is doubly repugnant; putting animals through the suffering of factory farming for ‘cheap’ meat, only to then throw them away.
The sad fact is that each year, Britain alone throws away the meat equivalent of 110 million animals; most are chickens, along with nearly 3 million pigs and over 200,000 cattle; that’s an awful waste of life, and the land, water and other resources that went into their production.
Yet, the biggest single area of food waste globally is feeding of grain – cereals and soya – to industrially reared farm animals. The feed is often imported from distant lands, grown on land that was formerly rich pasture or rainforest. Those animals could have been converting grass and other stuff that people can’t eat into things that we can.
Instead, they are crammed together and fed human-edible crops, returning less than a third of the calorific value of the grain they eat as meat, milk and eggs.
If all this grain destined for industrially reared animals were planted in one field, it would cover the entire land surface of the European Union. If fed directly to people, it would sustain an extra 4 billion.
So, there’s the crux of the challenge to feeding a growing human population; not that we don’t produce enough – the current food system churns out sufficient to feed 11 billion people or more.
The real reason is because we waste it; by throwing it away or feeding it to farm animals who would be better off – for all our sakes – being allowed to roam freely.