John Mandyck, Chief Sustainability Officer of UTC pulled no punches in delivering a presentation aimed at provoking urgent action against food wastage. Mandyck, the co-author of Food Foolish, told an audience of over 160 delegates at the 3rd World Cold Chain Summit of a hidden source of food that can feed four billion people and conserve enough water to fill the water needs of the entire continent of Africa every year. The hidden source, as he dramatically put it, is the food we humans waste each and every day. “We produce for 10 billion people, the global population is seven billion and only six billion actually are fed,” Mandyck said. Where else do we tolerate 40% inefficiency? We don’t in anything, yet we have come to accept it as regards our food supply.”
The food we waste, Mandyck said, has widespread ramifications. Take for example the enormous environmental footprint involved in producing and transporting food. The multiple activities of producing and transporting food results in the emission of a mindboggling 3.6 billion metric tonnes of carbon every year. The carbon is the result of running our tractors and pumps and for moving food on the road, Mandyck said. “If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest behind China and the United States, in terms of emissions,” he said.
The irrigated water we use to grow food that we throw away is greater than the irrigated water used by any country in the globe
The carbon we emit, Mandyck said, has serious implications. Over 70% of the planet is covered in ocean, yet we get only two per cent of our food from the ocean, Mandyck pointed out. When faced with a growing population of 35% in 30 years, we ought to be getting more food from the ocean, he said, which means we need to take care of our oceans. The startling truth is that one third of all our carbon emissions are absorbed by the oceans, Mandyck said. And it is raising the acidity of oceans by 26% and, through that, is killing off the basic building blocks, the planktons, to the small fish to the big fish we want to eat. “So it is imperative to reduce the carbon impact to protect the oceans, so they remain a viable source of food as we grow our population,” he said.
Food wastage also severely depletes global freshwater reserves, Mandyck said. Of all the water there is, just 1.3% is freshwater that we have access to, he pointed out. “And we take 70% of that to grow our food… and then, we throw 40% of that away,” he said. “We have to understand that wasted food is actually wasted water. The irrigated water we use to grow food that we throw away is greater than the irrigated water used by any country in the globe.”
A strong cold chain, Mandyck said, would go a long way in cutting down on food wastage. Thirty-seven per cent of food waste, he said, happens at supermarkets and restaurants, and is a common occurrence in developed than developing countries. Sixty-three per cent is at the production level and during transit. Less than 10% of the perishable food is refrigerated today, and that is one of the reasons why we are losing food at the distribution level, he said. “If all developing countries rise in cold chain to the level of developed countries, we can see a 10 to one benefit in reducing greenhouse gases. For every one tonne of carbon spent on cold chain, there is a 10-tonne benefit of reduction of food losses.”
[The writer is the Editor of Climate Control Middle East.]