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WWF - New report finds food waste on farms accounts for 1.2BN tonnes of all food wasted globally

Driven to Waste, a new WWF report published in partnership with Tesco, reveals that the amount of food lost on farms globally totals 1.2 billion tonnes. WWF states that ambitious food waste reduction targets from farm to fork are urgently needed to tackle this issue.

  • Carbon footprint of food loss on farms equates to that produced by 400m cars driven in one year
  • Consumers and retailers should embrace ‘wonky’ fruit and veg to help cut farm waste
  • Report also suggests, in total, 1 billion tonnes more food is wasted globally than previously thought

These new findings come in the wake of the National Food Strategy, which highlights that, in the UK, a third of food is wasted before it leaves the farm and more than a quarter of food grown is never eaten, accounting for between 6% and 7% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.

The Driven to Waste report suggests that each year, an estimated 2.5 billion tonnes of food goes uneaten around the world, including food wasted on farms, in shops, restaurants, food processing and at home (1).  That is an increase of nearly 1 billion tonnes on previous estimates of 1.3 billion tonnes wasted annually(2). The data indicate that of all the food grown, around 40 per cent of it goes uneaten, which is higher than the previously predicted figure of 33 per cent(2).

Driven to Waste is the first quantification of total on-farm food losses since 2011. When combined with updated data on loss in supply chains and waste at retail and consumption, we have a clearer picture of the scale of food loss and waste from farm to fork that demonstrates for the first time how imperative it is that this stage is no longer overlooked in efforts to keep global warming below 1.5°C.

The report analysis also shows that total food waste and loss seen throughout the whole supply chain amounts to 10 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions - higher than the 8 per cent previously estimated(2). This is the equivalent of nearly twice the emissions produced by all the cars driven in the US and Europe, in one year. For food waste on farms alone, the carbon footprint is equivalent to 400 million cars driven for a year. These figures demonstrate the need to address the way we produce our food to help tackle the climate and nature crisis.

More food is lost on farms per capita in developed countries, including the UK, than in the developing world. The report says farmers need support in measuring and then reducing food waste – and consumers can make a difference by buying and eating ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets should buy up whole crops, no matter what they look like, and promote these to customers or use them in different ways so they don’t go to waste.

Governments and food businesses can support farmers by working with them on the ‘Target Measure Act’ approach. This commits to setting specific food waste reduction targets, identifying and measuring the waste and taking action to tackle it.

David Edwards, Director of Food Strategy at WWF, said:

“Decisions by business and governments have a significant impact on the levels of food lost or wasted on farms, including in the UK. To radically reduce food waste, we need ambitious reductions targets across the whole food supply chain, with businesses who buy the food supporting farmers in making this happen. Transforming our global food system is critical in tackling the climate and nature crisis and safeguarding our planet's health.”

Driven to Waste also showed that a total 4.4 million km2 of agricultural land, a land mass bigger than the Indian subcontinent, is needed to produce food that never leaves the farm.

Ken Murphy, CEO of Tesco, said:

“As an industry we must increase our efforts to tackle the issue of food loss and waste throughout the entire supply chain. At Tesco, we publish food waste data for every one of the markets we operate in and have been working with 71 of our largest global suppliers to reduce food waste and have already reported a reduction of more than 40 per cent, when compared to our 2016/17 baseline. 
“Using the Target Measure Act framework, we are continuously taking action, from broadening our specs and selling wonky veg in our Perfectly Imperfect range, to donating surplus farm produce to schools and communities in Kenya. This year several of our suppliers will report on their own farm food loss and waste for the first time, helping us to tackle waste in the earliest parts of the supply chain.”   

Notes to Editors


(1) This is an indicative estimate based on the 1.2billion tonnes of food loss on farms calculated within the Driven to Waste report, the 931 million tonnes wasted in retail, food service and consumer homes, and calculations to estimate losses occurring in the post farmgate transport, storage, manufacturing and processing stages. 
The farm stage losses from the Driven to Waste research (1.2bt) were split into the post-harvest losses and in field losses and then, using the percentage of post-harvest losses on farm and in the supply chain provided in the FAO State of Food & Agriculture report (2019), post-harvest losses on farm were subtracted from FAO 2019’s estimate of post-harvest losses up to but not including retail. These figures were derived from the appropriate FAOSTAT production numbers. This created an estimate of 436mt for losses occurring in the post farmgate transport, storage, manufacturing and processing stages. This figure will vary depending on calculation method and assumptions made. 

(2) FAO (2011). Global Food Losses And Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention. Rome. 


The FAO and UNEP Food Loss and Waste Indexes are based on a seven-stage food supply chain, from cultivation to consumption. However, the Food Loss Index only includes farm-level loss post-harvest. By compiling over 2,000 farm stage food loss and waste data points for different commodities and regions, WWF provides additional data, the first since 2011 FAO estimates to consider both harvest and post- harvest waste, to give a clearer picture of the scale and severity of food loss and waste. 

Background on Target, Measure, Act

The “Target-Measure-Act” approach is endorsed by the Champions 12.3  coalition of executives from governments, businesses, international organizations, research institutions, farmer groups, and civil society dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action, and accelerating progress toward halving food waste and reducing food loss. The three-step approach is a proven way to achieve rapid results: 

  • Target. Targets set ambition, and ambition motivates action. Governments and companies should adopt explicit targets to reduce food loss and waste by 50% from farm to fork. 
  • Measure. The old adage “what gets measured gets managed” is true for food loss and waste, as well. Governments and companies should measure their food loss and waste to identify the “hot spots” needing action, publish the results to inspire others, and monitor to track progress over time. 
  • Act. In the end, action is what ultimately matters. Based on information gathered from measurement, governments and companies should develop and implement strategies for tackling their hot spots of food loss and waste, ranging from on-farm food losses to household food waste and everything in between. National public-private partnerships can be an effective way to take collaborative action, find pragmatic policies and practices, and engage everyone from farmers to consumers in a shared mission.  

Further background on Driven to Waste

Driven to Waste also provides a comprehensive view of the total land and water usage needed to produce the uneaten food. In total 4.4 million km2 of agricultural land and 760km3 of water are used to produce food that never leaves the farm.  This equates to a land mass larger than the Indian subcontinent, and water volume, equivalent to 304 million Olympic swimming pools, and doesn’t include the additional resources used to produce food that is wasted further down the supply chain. 

Driven to Waste finds that food is lost on farms for a variety of reasons. Traditionally, on-farm loss is thought to be due to uncontrollable factors such as, extreme weather or pests and diseases, and poor infrastructure. However, the report finds that it is also caused by controllable factors like sub-optimal production practices resulting from a lack of knowledge or training, and poor crop choice. Though, this is often the result of indirect drivers such as, imbalances of power between farmers and retailers; market structures that keep farmers separated from the end consumer; and a lack of governmental support or policy to drive change.

About WWF

WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, active in nearly 100 countries. Our supporters – more than five million of them – are helping us to restore nature and to tackle the main causes of nature’s decline, particularly the food system and climate change. We’re fighting to ensure a world with thriving habitats and species, and to change hearts and minds so it becomes unacceptable to overuse our planet’s resources. 
WWF. For your world. 
For wildlife, for people, for nature. 
Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk

Original article link: https://www.wwf.org.uk/press-release/global-food-waste-report

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