Clean your plate, save the world?

Thu Mar 15, 2012 1:11pm EDT
 
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By Lisa Baertlein and Ernest Scheyder

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Cleaning your plate may not help feed starving children today, but the time-worn advice of mothers everywhere may help reduce food waste from the farm to the fork, help the environment and make it easier to feed the world's growing population.

Hard data is still being collected, but experts at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago this week said an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of the food produced in the world goes uneaten.

The average American throws away 33 pounds of food each month -- about $40 worth -- according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which plans to publish a report on food waste in April.

In a year, that means each person throws away almost 400 pounds of food, the weight of an adult male gorilla. (Graphic, U.S. food waste in 2010: link.reuters.com/fad27s )

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 23 percent of eggs and an even higher percentage of produce ends up in the trash.

"We forget we have all these fresh fruits and vegetables, and at the end of the week we have to throw them away," said Esther Gove, a mother of three young children in South Berwick, Maine. "Now, I don't buy as much fresh produce as I used to."

But the impact of food waste stretches far beyond the kitchen.

Agriculture is the world's largest user of water, a big consumer of energy and chemicals and major emitter of greenhouse gases during production, distribution and landfill decay. Experts say reducing waste is a simple way to cut stress on the environment while easing pressure on farmers, who will be called on to feed an expected 9 billion people around the world in 2050, versus nearly 7 billion today.   Continued...

 
Children eat food at an "anganwadi" (creche) centre under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme in Gandhi village, about 45 km (28 miles) west of the northeastern Indian city of Agartala, April 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey