At this point it takes more than a million gallons of free milk, or the fact that he has just filled an entire trailer with soon-to-be expired yogurt, to surprise Maurice Lony. As president of the French Federation of Food Banks, Lony says he is so used to food waste. Last year his organization collected a whopping 103,244 tons of food, a veritable mountain of groceries that would have otherwise been discarded.
Half of that food came from the French state, from an annual collection provided by individuals and European agricultural stocks; the other half came from the food industry and supermarkets. Everything goes to the kitchens of people in need, distributed through partner charities. We retrieve products that cannot be sold but that are perfectly edible, like products that are not correctly labeled or are close to their sell-by date, says Lony.
Just about everyone does their share of wasting: farmers who calibrate their fruit and vegetables, transporters who damage their fruit, producers who aim for perfectly unblemished produce, retailers who pack their shelves to the brim, restaurants that serve over-generous plates, and individuals who do not pay enough attention to sell-by dates.
In the cities where big events are regularly organized, up to a third of the meals served end up in the garbage, says Benoît Hartmann, spokesman for an organization called France Nature Environnement. Its an indecent and irresponsible practice. We must not forget the environmental consequences, all the pesticides, the land and the water and the means of transport, all used for no reason at all!"
According to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) -- the only institution providing figures on the subject -- French retailers remove from their shelves 1.3 million tons of organic waste each year. French citizens are not any better: they throw away an average of 44 pounds of food each year, or little more than 15 pounds of food past their sell-by date and 28 pounds of food scraps and leftovers.
The subject is still a delicate one. When asked the question, nine out of every 10 French people say they do not throw away any food. It is as if they simply refuse to admit the reality that our society is wasting food, says Lydia Ougier of ADEMEs prevention and waste management department.
Today, our economy processes more raw products than ever before, transporting them over long distances and using state-of-the-art time management planning," explains agronomist Michael Griffin, vice-president of the French National Research Agency. "The obvious result is that the coefficient of food that is not consumed is very high. The world did not have this problem before the 1960s, when the food circuit was much shorter.
A global study conducted in 2008 by the International Water Institute in Stockholm on behalf of FAO confirms the scale of the problem. The study states that about half of all food produced in the world will never actually make it into anyones mouth! In developing countries crops are often destroyed by disease and losses are quite significant," says Griffon. "In developed countries, it is the practices of companies and individuals that end up causing such an impressive amount of waste."
In the United States, 40% of the raw food produced ends up in the trash, according to a study published in November 2010 in the PLOS One journal. In Britain, the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates the cost of British food waste at approximately $18 billion per year.
It is clear, then, that the war against food waste has yet to really begin. The only cause for hope right now is the wallet. Since the economic crisis started in 2008, food rescue charities and food banks are finding that the amount of food they collect is stagnating. Some of the blame goes to supermarkets, which in an effort to reduce costs have significantly improved inventory management.
Read the original article in French.