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Environmental Issues: Causes and Consequences of Food Waste

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Our world is full of food waste and ultimately everyone is at fault. This is an ongoing task that is being performed by many individuals, and it is creating a worldwide issue that is present in all areas of the food industry. However, in the article entitled “The State of America’s Wasted Food and Opportunities to Make a Difference,” Chris Vogliano, a licensed and registered dietician, and Katie Brown, a licensed and registered dietician nutritionist explained that in today’s world food waste is more common than it has ever been. They mention that an American “throws away 50% more food today than in 1970” (Vogliano and Brown 1199). The reason for this is due to population growth and the demand for food. It may seem that consumers are highly blamed for this issue, but food waste is present in many stages starting with agriculture (where the production takes place). There are many elements at the agricultural level that contribute to food waste and they include environmental conditions, overproduction, and appearance standards.

Environmental issues such as climate changes are negatively affecting the production of crops. This is a major issue for farmers because this goes beyond what they can control (Vogliano and Brown 1199). In some cases, high temperatures can prevent a crop from growing. For example, in the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) view, the “high nighttime temperatures in 2010 and 2012 affected corn fields across the U.S. Corn Belt, and premature budding due to a warm winter caused $220 million in losses of Michigan cherries” (“Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply”). The result of this was the large sums of corn and berries that were lost during the production process. Eventually most of those crops had to be thrown away because they were no longer consumable. Also due to these warm temperatures, the “U.S. farmers spend more than $11 billion per year to fight weeds, which compete with crops for light, and water…” (“Climate Impacts on”). These weeds prefer to present themselves during high temperatures, and by doing so they are mainly absorbing all of the nutrients (such as sunlight and water) that any plant needs in order to bloom. This means that if crops are not provided with the essential nutrients such as those provided by the environment, they will no longer be useful. Instead, the farmers will be forced to toss any products that have been defeated by the weeds. One of the points discussed by Dr Iain Lake, Dr Asmaa Abdelhamid, and Dr Lee Hooper (all who attended the University of East Anglia and studied environmental sciences) includes the idea that climate change can cause contamination in some major crops. This is problematic because some pathogens (bacteria) and mycotoxins (fungi) are likely to appear, and this instantly calls for the removal of such products which will be sent to landfills (Abdelhamid et al. 8). As a result, it will add to the high amounts of food waste occurring in the U.S. and around the globe.

The overproduction of crops is an issue that farmers must deal with. For farmers, predicting the demand for goods has always been a challenge because they are not aware of exactly how much of each crop is needed. A study that focuses on the causes and ways to prevent food waste was written by Jenny Gustavsson, Christel Cederberg, Ulf Sonesson (from the “Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology”), Robert Van Otterdijk, and Alexandre Meybeck (from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)(Gustavsson et al.). These individuals believe that “In order to ensure delivery of agreed quantities… farmers sometimes make production plans on the safe side, and end-up producing larger quantities than needed” (Gustavsson et al. 10). At the same time, these farmers are not taking into consideration the fact that being on the “safe side” is ultimately creating more food and waste (something that we are trying to avoid) (Gustavsson et al. 10). As a result, farmers are left with large amounts of surplus and they must decide what they want to do with the leftovers. Some of them donate the excess goods to specific individuals who will then use it to feed their animals (Vogliano and Brown 1201). However, the majority is disposed because it is not consumable for livestock or useful in any other way (Vogliano and Brown 1201). To demonstrate how much overplanting is occurring let’s take Italy as an example. In the grains category Italy has an estimated surplus of “40%,” Vegetables are “54%,” fruits are “50%,” alcoholic drinks are “55%,” meat items are “54%,” and finally, fish items are “33%” (“Food Waste: Causes” 32). In total Italy (between 2005-2006) had a surplus of 286%. This is a significant amount of overproduction that only occurred in one country. However, there are other places in the world that have a higher or lower surplus percentage.

The appearance of a certain product is the most important element for a retailer and the consumers. In this case, farmers are obligated to separate the goods ranging from: in good condition, to average, and in bad condition. Each fruit or vegetable will be judged based upon its color, size, weight, and shape. (Gustavsson et al. 11). This process is known as “culling” and according to Vogliano and Brown, “culling can remove 10% to 40% of a product before it reaches the retail sector.” This represents an important percentage of goods that are being discriminated against because they do not fit those perfect standards. An example of this task was observed by “Tristram Stuart who visited several British farms… in particular M.H. Poskitt carrots in Yorkshire” (Gustavsson et al. 10). He was informed that Asda, a supermarket, wanted all carrots to have a presentable appearance in order to attract consumers. As a result, “25-30% of all carrots… were out-graded” due to its size, shape, and because they contained imperfections (Gustavsson et al. 10). It is clear that “ugly” produce will always be rejected while those perfectly looking goods will be preferred. Even though they taste exactly the same, the appearance will always be on top.

Although food waste is a very complex issue, there are possible solutions that will help reduce this. For example, Rick Stroecken, a student who plans on completing his masters in the food waste supply chain, explains that educating farmers “about their crops and their harvesting techniques” is in fact, helpful (Stroecken 26). Some farmers are unaware of when they should plant their crops and the effects of planting them at the wrong time. Therefore, they must gain knowledge about “the biological and environmental factors that are involved in postharvest deterioration” (Stroecken 26). For these farmers, being well informed is a key component because it will help them with the production process. In other words, it will help them to estimate the number of crops they must plant (while also trying to avoid overproduction). In addition, another solution involves farms working together as a group instead of competing with one another. This would mean that if a farm is lacking crops, the other farm (with the surplus) will provide that farm with the items they most likely need (Gustavsson et al. 10). These solutions can help to minimize the food waste present around the globe, but it will not get rid of this whole issue.

The world is full of so many problematic issues; food waste is definitely on top of the list. This issue is represented in a cycle which begins at the agricultural level, and it ends with the consumers. This being said, the starting point and the ending point both determine how future generations will be affected (depending on the amount of food waste produced). The future lies in our hands, so what will you do to avoid contributing to this issue?

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Environmental Issues: Causes and Consequences of Food Waste. (2023, February 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
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