The desperate need to improve supply chain efficiency was the core message of the Sustainable Foods Summit in San Francisco in the US, which ran from January 22-23.
Landfill should be the last resort for food manufacturers, according to Amy Kirkland, of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, who was speaking at the event.
Reducing waste at source, channeling excess food to hungry people, using it for animal feed, employing it for other industrial uses and composting were preferable to landfill, she said.
However, she said two thirds of global food waste currently goes to landfill, creating environmental pollution and contributing to social problems.
‘Most food losses occur post harvest’
“A FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) United Nations study shows that most food losses in developing countries occur post-harvest, at storage and distribution level,” Amarjit Sahota, president, Organic Monitor, told FoodProductionDaily.com. “Whereas, a number of studies show that most food is wasted in developed countries at retail and consumer level.”
Delegates were presented with case studies looking at how firms had cut the amount of food they sent to landfill. The Bon Appetite Management Company showed how it is reducing food waste by apportioning meal sizes and changing menu options. It has also set up a food recovery programme to feed the hungry.
Attendees also heard from Whole Foods Market, which, with no centralized waste disposal system, is composting its food waste. It stated waste management infrastructure was vital for a successful food waste programme.
Radical innovation and collaboration
Michael Hewett, director of corporate environmental and sustainability management, at US retail chain Publix Super Markets, called for radical innovation and collaboration to meet future supply chain challenges. Retailers now faced “a myriad of competing elements” when tackling sustainability, he said.
“Improved storage and distribution methods will have a major impact on food losses /waste in developing countries,” Sahota told this site.
Meanwhile, in developed countries such as the UK and US, a more efficient waste management infrastructure was called for, diverting more waste from landfill, he said.
Summit participants agreed intensive production methods were not the sole answer to feeding the growing global population. The consensus was that sustainable agriculture also had a role to play in improving the environmental and social impact of food products.
Delegates were also told how the growing number of eco-labels could deter consumers from buying sustainable foods by causing ‘label fatigue’.
One means of overcoming this was for products to carry Quick Response (QR) codes, according to the Ethical Bean Coffee company, which uses them. Consumers can scan them with smart phones to access information on sustainable schemes, providing a way to consolidate data.
“QR codes enable consumers to scan products and get as much -or as little - information as possible from the internet,” said Sahota. “This way, information can be kept at a minimum on product packaging (and few eco-labels) but more detailed information is available via hand-held devices. We are already seeing this development take off for sustainable seafood and some fresh produce.”