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Food waste

Why Westerners Are the Wastrels of the World

Thursday, December 27, 2007 by: Al G Smith
Tags: food waste, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Here in the UK it has been time for a particular story to 'do the rounds' of the media once again in recent days. This is a news item that has cropped up in major media once or twice a year in the last half decade (a quick search of the web reveals). What is the story? The one about how much food we manage to waste in our arguably overly well-blessed society.

It appears that in the UK, we are currently throwing out over 30 percent of the food we buy every week. In other words we buy so much food, nearly one third of it actually goes past its 'best before' date before we get round to eating it. One reason for this is, no doubt, the increasingly ubiquitous, and tempting, "Twofers" and "BOGOFs" found in most food retailing havens. (You'll probably know that these terms are the merchandising slang for 'Two for One' offers and 'Buy One Get One Free' incentives!)

This level of wastefulness is both startling, and rather disgusting at the same time, yet the simplicity of such an observation obscures a number of other concerns. Some of these concerns will be discussed in a moment, but first a note about how this habit of overstocking seems to be a shared fallibility in the West.

The problem of wasteful consumption is one the UK is guilty of along with our cousins across the Atlantic. The US fares a little better than the UK with wastage figures of 'only' around 25 percent of all food purchased by consumers. Studies have also shown that the volume of wastage of different food groups tends to vary. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more perishable items are wasted in greater amounts with around one third of all liquid milk and a similar proportion of fresh fruit and vegetables contributing to the mountain of waste.

Naturally, with the US population being around five times that of the UK the total volumes of waste are, pro rata, staggeringly higher even though the percentages wasted may be a little less. Surveys undertaken in recent times indicate that something like 100 billion pounds (in weight) of food is wasted annually in the US. This is a truly monumental amount that averages out at over 260 million pounds wasted daily; equivalent to over three quarters of a pound of food per person per day!

As mentioned this astonishing tendency towards wastefulness is accompanied by some further disturbing factors, here are but a few of them:

* Sources suggest that in the US there are some 30 million people living at or below the poverty level, all of whom could eat well if just 4 percent of the annually wasted food was made available to them!

* The UK and US now host some of the highest proportions of overweight citizens in the world. Our wasteful habits cannot, therefore, simply be addressed by encouraging more efficient consumption as this would only exacerbate the obesity problem. It seems that people must be persuaded to buy less, but this is hardly a likelihood in our consumerism oriented societies.

* Spending on 'food' related advertising in the US and UK is booming. For example, amounts approaching UK 600 million (equivalent to about US $1200 million) per year are spent on TV advertising in the UK alone. Of this sum, more than half is spent on promoting convenience foods, snack foods and confectionery. In excess of another 10 percent of the total is solely spent on promoting soft drinks.

* These sums pale almost into insignificance by comparison with the promotional budgets of the major food and beverage companies in the US. In 2003, major food product manufacturers spent over US $8 billion (UK 4 billion) on advertising. Soft drink manufacturer Pepsi alone 'invested' the equivalent of the UK's total TV advertising expenditure on supporting their 'famous' brand!.

Along with supermarket initiatives already mentioned, it can easily be deduced why people are cajoled into over-purchasing, and ultimately under-consuming. Indeed with every American now imbibing around a gallon of soft-drinks per week on average, many of those advertising dollars must be hitting their mark.

In the UK, the vast majority of food is purchased from the virtual oligopoly of about five main supermarket brands. These modern-day 'grocers' maintain that their advertising and stocking strategies are all developed with the consumer in mind. We are frequently told that they simply sell what the customer demands! Even so, with a decreasing number of smaller retailers to resort to (many already having been driven into bankruptcy by the 'big boys' dominance in the marketplace) these companies insist on spending increasing amounts on TV advertising to try and 'keep us loyal'. What is significant is that the third of food we buy but throw away represents a huge contribution towards the supermarket chains annual profits. This is why we can hardly expect to see the end of the 'Twofers' or 'BOGOFs' any time soon!

All in all, something is evidently wrong here and it doesn't take much expertise to make such an assessment. Given the importance of the food manufacturing and retailing industry to the major Western economies, and given the increasing role that advertising plays in influencing consumer purchasing habits, there seems no likely early solution to the issues of over-purchasing, over-eating and undue wastefulness. In fact, with the constant requirement for companies to post ever increasing annual profits, the likelihood that they will ever encourage any moderation in purchasing habits is more than just remote.

One closing thought. It has been stated that the US alone appears to waste some US $100 billion in food per year. It has also been suggested that just US $4 billion of this would feed the 30 million poverty-stricken American citizens. The food waste mountain of the US by itself would presumably provide enough sustenance for at least another 720 million of the less fortunate inhabitants of this globe! If it were possible to somehow distribute the unnecessarily purchased surfeit of food, what an impact it would have without a single sacrifice or penny given in charity.

How sad it is then that there is such an imbalance of resources around this planet, with so little apparent motivation to resolve the problem, only an appetite for ever more food that will simply end up in the bin. Perhaps the Supermarkets should come clean and start to market their products not with the epithet BOGOF, but with a new acronym BOGOTTA: 'Buy One Get One To Throw Away'!

About the author

Al G Smith MSc BSc - Has been working and teaching in the food related sector for over 30 years and is currently a website publisher (http://www.gonaturalandorganic.com) and Independent Representative for the World's first extensive range of Certified Organic skin care and cosmetics (http://www.saferalternative.com).

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