👍Sinful waste that needs to be stopped | Business Standard Column

Clipped from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/sinful-waste-that-needs-to-be-stopped-123012200777_1.html

The menace of hunger or undernourishment can be mitigated to a considerable extent just by curtailing the wastage of raw food and making a better use of the left-over cooked food

One-third of all food in India is spoiled or wasted before it is consumed, says the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The Food Waste Index Report 2021 of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had reckoned household food wastage in India at around 50 kg per capita per year, amounting to a total of 68.76 million tonnes. These losses occur in the supply chain — transportation, storage, and marketing — as also at household level in kitchens and on dining-tables. A sizeable amount of food normally remains unutilised and is discarded because of the tendency to buy or cook more food than can be consumed by families or guests at social events. Paucity of refrigeration and cold-storage facilities is another factor responsible for food spoilage. A study by the Kolkata-based Indian Institute of Management has revealed that hardly 10 per cent of the perishable food items find a place in cold stores.

Globally, too, a significant quantity of food is lost between harvest and consumption. The UNEP index assesses these losses at around 17 per cent of production. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has quantified the overall losses at 1.3 billion tonnes a year. Such a colossal wastage of eatables is sinful, considering rampant malnutrition in India and across the world. The FAO estimates that about 795 million people remain undernourished worldwide. The prevention of this wastage can help feed 1.26 billion hungry people every year.

These numbers, despite being massive, do not seem implausible when we look around and see the amount of food thrown away in restaurants, hotels, banquet halls, private parties, weddings and other kinds of gatherings. In fact, the bigger the social event, the more is the waste generated by it. The broad message that this data seeks to convey is that the wastage of precious food is untenably high and needs to be curbed and, preferably, recirculated or recycled for gainful use. The menace of hunger or undernourishment can be mitigated to a considerable extent just by curtailing the wastage of raw food and making a better use of the left-over cooked food. In fact, doing so is part of the obligation of the governments under Section 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by all countries during the historic UN summit at Rio in September 2015. It envisaged halving the per-capita global food wastage by 2030 by improving supply chains and cutting down food losses at retail and consumer levels.

This target is not out of reach, given the ways and means available to achieve it. Many countries have already put in place systems that help in either reducing wastage or in utilising the spare food in a rewarding manner. France, for instance, has enacted legislation requiring supermarkets to either give unsold food to charity or pass it on to farmers for use as animal feed or fertiliser. In Canada, several institutions have begun collecting unused and unspoiled food from restaurants, caterers, retailers, and agro-processors to give it to charities for food and feed use.

Fortunately, in India also some moves are afoot to ensure better utilisation of the spoil-prone uncooked or cooked food though most of these operate on a scale that is too small to make a perceptible impact. However, there are some initiatives, such as the Indian Food Sharing Alliance (IFSA), floated by the FSSAI, which promises better results if pursued earnestly. The IFSA seeks to develop a network of food-collection agencies and bring together citizens, food businesses, corporate houses, civil society organisations, volunteers and local bodies to minimise food wastage all across the supply chain — from production to consumption.

Another notable measure is the Union government’s counsel to states to include a chapter on “Prevention of Food Wastage” in school textbooks to create awareness among children and the youth about the need to save food. The Union food and consumer affairs ministry is reportedly planning to launch nation-wide publicity campaigns through different media on this issue.

A policy paper (No 115) brought out by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) in November 2022 has made a strong plea for using discarded food as animal feed or converting it into manure for cropland. The document, entitled “Waste to Wealth — Use of Food Waste as Animal Feed”, points out that the country’s livestock sector is facing an acute shortage of feed and fodder, which can be alleviated to an extent by feeding the waste food to cattle, poultry birds, and fish. A significant advantage of this move would be that the animals fed on these wastes would give it back in the form of fresh and value-added products like milk, meat, and eggs. However, an efficient and cost-effective system would need to be developed to collect the unused, age-expired, or spoiled foodstuff from different places and transport it to the recycling units and consumption points.

surinder.sud@gmail.com

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