On December 19, 2019, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated September 29 as the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFLW). Jointly led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the goal of the day, as its name suggests, is to raise awareness to the importance of food loss and waste and its possible solutions at all levels.
For the second observance of the IDAFLW, the FAO issued a call to action for both the public and the private sectors, as well as individuals, to prioritize actions and ramp up innovation to reduce food loss and waste. Here are some key takeaways from this year’s IDAFLW.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights the Opportunity to Rethink our Food System this IDAFLW
This year’s IDAFLW comes as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on around the world. While the day was introduced prior to the pandemic, it has brought about an alarming wakeup call on the need to transform the way our food is produced and consumed.
The onset of the pandemic saw the closure of restaurants, hotels and other foodservice outlets, driving down demand for food in that sector, while demand skyrocketed for food at grocery stores and delivery services. The mismatch in demand led to consequences in every step of the supply chain and an unquantified amount of food loss and waste.
The food industry had to rapidly adapt and overcome multiple challenges, such as demand-side changes, logistics and packaging needs. It united and adjusted to get unsold and uneaten food to food banks and other hunger relief groups serving those in need. For example, grocery chain Kroger expanded its Dairy Rescue Program to redirect surplus milk from farms to food banks.
The US government also responded to COVID-19 with a wide range of efforts, such as the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers to Families Food Box program, which purchased billions of dollars’ worth of fresh produce, dairy and meat from American producers for delivery to food banks and other nonprofits.
On the consumer side, many are freezing their food for preservation, learning new recipes and honing their meal planning skills. By doing so, they may be becoming more aware of the food they waste and its value, not only to them, but to the planet. Prior to pandemic, the USDA estimated that the average American family of four lost $1,500 to uneaten food. Time will tell whether these new food habits are here to stay beyond this IDAFLW.
One silver lining is that COVID-19 highlighted our interconnection with the food supply chain. It brought forward the notion that consumers, food companies and governments can all play a role in reducing food waste. Now, more than ever, there is a unique opportunity to make real progress in reducing food waste.
Reducing Food Loss and Waste Can Strengthen our Food System
According to the FAO, “globally, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail, while an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted.” When food is wasted, so is the land, water, energy, labor and other efforts that were used in producing, processing, transporting, storing and disposing of the wasted food – resources that could have been put to better use.
This year’s IDAFLW highlights the need to strengthen our food systems by reducing food loss and waste. Food industry players have found new ways to operate that can reduce food waste, such as improved inventory management to streamline the ordering process. In addition to getting excess food to those in need, the food industry can prevent the remaining excess food from ending up in landfills by way of upcycling.
Federal, state and local governments also have a role to play in strengthening food supply chain resilience. For example, throughout the pandemic, the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores, issuing guidance to safely redirect food that typically would be bought in bulk by food facilities and restaurants, like eggs and flour, directly to consumers. These efforts have also prevented food loss and waste.
With an estimated one third of all food going to waste, IDAFLW 2021 is an opportunity to reduce food loss and waste on all levels and restore and rebuild resilient food systems.