Our Changing Rights to Food: Right to Waste

Aug 17, 2011

By Eric Stryson, Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT)


Developed economies have unfortunately adopted a pattern of overproducing food and allowing their citizens and businesses to discard the excess food in huge amounts, shocking when juxtaposed to global hunger statistics which in recent years have oscillated between 900m to 1b people worldwide.    

A recent FAO-commissioned study estimates that up to one-third of the overall global food production, or 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted or lost each year.   ‘Lost’ primarily refers to food in developing countries which is unusable due to inadequate harvest techniques, processing, management and logistics infrastructure.  Much can be done in order to reduce this loss through strengthening supply chains and better matching production with demand.  

Yet the area where our rights to food must be adjusted and modernized is in controlling consumer behavior in rich countries which default toward grossly over-purchasing – this applies to businesses and individuals alike.  Oversized meals, lavish buffets and bulk packaged food promotions are common examples.  Estimates of per capita food waste in North America and Europe are 95 to 115kg per year.[1]  The FAO study cites that the food wastage at the consumer level in industrialized countries, 222m tons, is nearly as high as the total amount of food produced in sub-Saharan Africa, 230m tons.[2]

Given the energy inputs required –particularly in the case of producing animal products – as well as the lost land, water, labour and capital, and due to the growing environmental costs of disposal, this can no longer be tolerated.  The freedom to buy and waste on the part of those who have access to underpriced foods, is simply a primitive behavior that humanity can no longer afford.   

Restaurants and food providers must be penalized at the point of disposal, forcing them to tighten up their purchasing processes before waste is generated.  This penalty can also be passed onto consumers at the point of purchase, encouraging sensible ordering and consumption, and promoting more conservative behavior in the cases where there is uncertainty around quantities. 

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