Food, water and energy are among the major resources required to satisfy mankind's basic human needs. Ensuring there is enough of these to go around was the focus of a well-publicized United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study a few years ago. Most who read that report have since focused greater attention toward approaches to expand food production with little attention given to ensuring that what we already grow gets into hungry mouths. That's a shame because both production and conservation will be equally important in satisfying the world's growing appetite.
While many of us may not have read the original FAO report, nearly all of us have heard an often-quoted sentence within it. "The projections show that feeding a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050 would require raising overall food production by some 70 percent between 2005/2007 and 2050." Unfortunately, this dynamic statement doesn't even factor in the notion that today, on a global basis, an estimated 925 million people are undernourished and 16,000 children die from malnutrition each day.
Overall, there is no argument from us that more food production will be one element to fulfilling the world's food needs. Technology via commercial fertilizers; improved genetics, both traditional approaches and through genetically modified organisms; along with enhanced computing power have played crucial roles in stepping up food output.
However, there is a balance to everything. In this case, that balance must include reducing the staggering volume of food that never reaches a human stomach. Just how much food is wasted? The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a British think tank, estimated that between 30 and 50 percent or 4,400 billion pounds of food produced around the world never reaches a mouth. Even worse, half the food purchased by U.S. and European consumers is thrown away. The British researchers forecasted that the potential exists to provide 60 to 100 percent more food by simply eliminating current losses and waste.
While one can debate the percentages, there is no debating that we waste too much food. Simply cutting spoiled food losses in half would go a long way towards getting us to the 2050 goal of feeding an additional 2 billion people. Technology, logistics and human innovation can improve both the "more food" and "less waste" sides of the equation. The question is will we place equal effort into both?
This article appears on page 330 of the May 10, 2013 issue of Hoard's Dairyman