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Faces of Food Waste E02: Societal Implications of Food Waste

If you are lucky enough to live in a high-income setting, it may be difficult to imagine a life where having access to enough food to maintain good health is not a given. The food access landscape has observed a dramatic shift in the past century, following the industrialization and intensification of food production.

Whereas, in the past, many households were self-sufficient: rearing animals and growing crops to meet their needs, modern agriculture, which has evolved to meet the rising demand of a proliferating global population, has put food production in the hands of multi-national corporations. While this shift has seen great benefits for those who can afford it – providing an exceptional variety of products, year-round – the sharp increase in prices has left more than 690 million people hungry, according to the latest figures from the UN Hunger Report (World Food Programme, 2020). The real issue here, however, is that despite the astonishingly high number of people who lack access to food, the fact of the matter is that around the world, more than enough food is produced to provide the entire global population with sufficient nutrition to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. So, where does all this food go, if not to feed those who need it?

The World Food Programme, one of the leading actors in eliminating global hunger, estimates that every year one-third of food produced globally is wasted (World Food Programme, 2015). Not only does this result in a reduction of food reaching consumers, but it costs the global economy nearly US $1 trillion annually which, consequently, increases the price of products and further exacerbates issues of access. In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting trade restrictions and economic downturn made matters significantly worse. At present, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that we are severely behind our targets to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating world hunger by 2030. In fact, if the current trend continues, 2030 could see 840million people suffering from hunger – that is 150million additional victims in the next ten years (FAO, 2020).

We can, however, make a change. The official title of the second Sustainable Development Goal is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture’. The United Nations acknowledges that food security and food waste are intrinsically linked – to eliminate one would require a change to the other. This is why the plan of action to achieve this goal is heavily focussed upon reducing food waste. The official report goes as far to say that ‘reducing food waste is integral to ensuring that we meet the SDG of food security for 9 billion people in 2050’ (United Nations, 2012).

Photo of a lavender oil refinery plant in Bulgaria. Photo credit: Stefan Chechigo
Photo of a lavender oil refinery plant in Bulgaria Photo credit: Stefan Chechigo

Two of the seven primary targets that fall under this SDG regard the implementation and regular function of sustainable agricultural and food production systems. The reason for this being that the majority of food waste occurs at the production level, rather than at the consumer level, but this is not to say that consumers are completely removed for this part of the equation. One of the leading causes of production-level food losses is consumer demand the ensuing market conditions. While a portion of food losses come as a result of damage by pests, diseases and environment, the expectation of consumers, particularly in high-income countries, to have access to a huge variety of ‘perfect’ produce, regardless of the season, drives food loss at this level. Playing to these demands, farmers often plant far more than needed and then discard a large proportion of the produce which does not satisfy the criteria provided by retailers. Furthermore, produce must often travel long distances and is therefore subject to spoilage (Foodprint, 2018).

This issue of food waste is multifaceted and, therefore, very difficult to holistically address. We are now reaching a point, however, where it can no longer be ignored. The societal implications of food waste are among the most damning. Millions are currently suffering due to our skewed and unjust food system. A change must be made if we are to achieve the SDG for food security within the allotted time frame. The answers lie before us; our only hurdle is greed.


Written By: Emily Meijaard


FAO (2020). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 | FAO | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. [online] Available at:

Foodprint (2018). Food Waste Is a Massive Problem—Here’s Why | FoodPrint. [online] FoodPrint. Available at:

United Nations (2012). #Envision2030 Goal 2: Zero Hunger | United Nations Enable. [online] Available at:

World Food Programme (2015). Zero Hunger. [online] Available at:

World Food Programme (2020). 2020 - Global Report on Food Crises. [online] Available at:

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