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3 January, 2018 - 13:52 By Tony Quested

Paradigm shift needed to end global food waste, says Cranfield don

A paradigm shift in funding strategies and research programmes to tackle food waste on a global scale has been demanded by a leading academic at Cranfield University.

Professor Leon Terry, director of Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield, told the Oxford Farming Conference today that UK food waste had reached indefensible levels.

Every year, UK households waste £12.5 billion on seven million tonnes of food and drink that is bought and subsequently discarded according to a report – ‘From waste to resource productivity’ – by Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s chief scientific adviser.

Prof. Terry said that to address the global threat of food security, research needed to be directed at both increasing crop production and minimising waste.

He said that emphasis had been put on increasing future crop production, with far less resource being channelled towards enabling both established and innovative food preservation technologies to reduce food waste.

In a recent paper entitled ‘Minimising food waste: a call for multidisciplinary research’ published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Cranfield University researchers say that assessing the global scale of food waste is challenging, with question marks over the extent and accuracy of post-harvest loss and waste data.

They also argue that there is a paucity of active research being conducted in areas where post-harvest fresh produce loss is greatest.

For example, Europe is one of the dominant areas for post-harvest research, yet makes a relatively low contribution to global food loss.

In Africa, which contributes approximately 18 per cent of global post-harvest food losses, they suggest the research base is too low across the continent, with the majority of research stemming from South Africa.

Prof. Terry argues that UK research funds should be used to address this imbalance. He said: “The global threat to food security requires a dual-pronged global solution focused on increasing crop production and reducing food waste. However, across the world, we see much greater emphasis on research funding programmes that focus on increasing production rather than also improving preservation and reducing waste.

“If we are to address the global challenge of food security we need to see a paradigm shift in current funding strategies and research programmes that will encourage the development and implementation of collective solutions to better preserve and utilise food.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: Professor Leon Terry, Director of Environment and Agrifood and member of the senior management team at Cranfield University 

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