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It's time US reduced food wastage and prevented food loss

By Zhang Dequan/Xing Fuguo/Si Zhizhi | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-10 07:01


According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization data, as many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night, an increase of about 46 million from 2020. The worry is that the situation is likely to worsen this year.

On the other hand, food wastage is widespread in developed countries, especially in the United States, which is an agricultural and trading powerhouse. In fact, food wastage in the US is a serious threat to world food security.

One-third food is lost or wasted

The FAO estimates that about a third of the world's food, or about 1.3 billion tons of food, is lost or wasted each year. However, the greatest concern is that the total amount of food wasted in developed countries each year is equivalent to the total food yield in sub-Saharan Africa. Notably, about 60 million tons of agricultural products, worth $160 billion, are wasted in the US every year, making it a "nation of waste".

Wastage in the US food industry is rampant-a direct consequence of the US administration allowing capital to pursue commercial interests without any restraint. The US administration gives huge subsidies to the agricultural sector keeping in mind its political and economic interests. For instance, direct US government subsidies to maintain or boost the production of corn, soybean, wheat, livestock and other agricultural products in 2020 amounted to $45.7 billion. As a result, the cheap and sufficient supply of agricultural products sustained many large grain merchants.

To stimulate consumption, the US also issues food stamps worth about $70 billion a year through programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And in 2021, the Joe Biden administration raised the welfare program allocation by 27 percent. Stimulated by huge amounts of subsidies, the US food industry has acquired an air of great prosperity, with restaurants' revenue reaching $799 billion in 2021.

But what is gained very easily in the US is wasted even more easily. The UN Environment Programme's "Food Waste Index Report 2021" says that per capita food wastage in US restaurants was 64 kilograms a year, about 2.5 times the average of high-income countries.

Household food wastage reaches alarming levels

Food wastage in US households is equally alarming, as the entire country seems to indulge in overconsumption. Businesses often try to boost sales through promotional activities and oversized packaging, and by playing with the expiry date and "best before date" of products. Such measures attract new consumers and encourage existing customers to consume more, resulting in overbuying and discarding of still edible food. According to the UN food waste index, households account for about 42 percent of the food wastage.

Overconsumption of food, instead of being of any help to the people, seriously harms their health. The normal daily calorie intake of an adult is 1,600-3,000 kcal according to the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-25", but in the US it usually goes up to 3,770 kcal a day. No wonder 74 percent of adults and 40 percent of children in the US are overweight or obese, and the incidence of chronic diseases among Americans is high.

Incidentally, the people facing such problems mostly come from low-income families whose diets largely consist of high-calorie, high-sugar food. As a matter of fact, obesity has become an implicit measure of class in the US, as good health seems to have become the prerogative of wealthy people and politicians.

Besides, food wastage in the US puts immense pressure on the global socioeconomic ecology. For instance, the 60 million tons of agricultural products wasted in the US every year can feed more than 100 million people for a year. Food wastage also means a lot of refuse, as 90 percent of the food thrown away ends up in landfills. The US' Environmental Protection Agency says that uneaten food constitutes the largest source of municipal solid wastes and produces methane, a greenhouse gas more toxic than carbon dioxide. Yet the US cares little about such "trivial matters".

One wonders why the US doesn't implement a strong food conservation and waste-reduction policy to save food, so it can supply it to countries where people desperately need food and help preserve the Earth's resources.

Despite the grave situation and far-reaching consequences of food wastage, the US administration has shown no repentance. Nor is it making enough efforts to reduce waste or help strengthen global food security.

Moreover, the US' laws and policies don't prioritize waste reduction. As in other fields, the US is big on promises and short on action in reducing food wastage in spite of the widespread global criticism. In 2015, the US Department of Agriculture and the EPA pledged to reduce food wastage by 50 percent by 2030. But the goal was more symbolic than practical, and there are no data to measure its actual realization.

The US should fulfill its global responsibilities in terms of food conservation and waste reduction. But it has responded passively to global initiatives such as the UN Food Systems Summit and the International Conference on Food Loss and Waste. In fact, according to the Sustainable Development Report 2022, the US is one of the three G20 countries least supportive of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In its more than 245-year history, the US has not been involved in a war for only less than 20 years. And as an exporter of turmoil, it has never experienced famine or war on the mainland (except for the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865) nor faced food shortage. This fact partly explains why it lacks the consciousness to save food.

When it comes to trading off interests, the US always prioritizes the welfare of capitalists and big business, without any regard for the health of the general American people, let alone people facing hunger in other countries. Even the humanitarian assistance the US offers to other countries is largely a diplomatic and economic tool used to present a false image of the US as a protector of peace and prosperity.

A Chinese saying, "Cutting stalks at noontime, perspiration drips to the Earth. Know you that your bowl of rice, each grain from hardship comes", testifies to the traditional virtue of saving food.

China committed to reducing food waste

Accordingly, the Chinese government has been strengthening policies and regulations, and advocating international cooperation to reduce food wastage and loss. As for the US, it needs to reflect on its policy of encouraging overconsumption, thus allowing food wastage even as people in many parts of the world face hunger, instead of baselessly accusing other countries of causing a global food crisis.

And since the UN World Food Programme estimates that the number of people facing acute hunger will rise to 323 million globally this year, it's high time the US fulfilled its due international responsibility as a major global power and did the right thing to prevent food wastage and loss, and helped reduce hunger around the globe.

The authors are experts on agricultural studies.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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