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No time to waste! Our Expert Group is on the quest for the weak links in the food chain

On the 22nd of April, the SIANI expert group on “Food Waste Prevention Strategies for Global Food Chains” arranged a workshop to discuss good examples and possible solutions to reduce food waste on a global scale with a whole value chain perspective in mind.

This Expert Group focuses on working together with the Swedish resource base to both collect and improve knowledge and produce new policy relevant information. This means working in a holistic manner and in collaboration with a variety of actors in order to examine technological as well as institutional aspects of food waste. “Now that the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 specifically calls for ‘halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains’, there is a unique opportunity to address this issue on a global scale”, – says Karin Östegren, the Expert Group leader.

The meeting started with a set of presentations to provide context for the workshop, starting with Karin Östergren, Technical Research Institute of Sweden, who emphasised that food waste is not only food products, it also includes massive amounts of energy, water and land (equal to the size of China) that are used for food production. Waste also takes different forms in different parts of the world and across the value chain, and while some of it falls within the responsibilities of individuals, there are also food losses that require cooperation.

Ulrika Franke from the Swedish Board of Agriculture, pointed out how food waste might be a too narrow concept since it excludes products which aren’t consumed by humans, but that still makes up a large part of the total waste, like, for example, fodder. For the SIANI network, it could be interesting to look into possible uses of imported fodder, like fish feed, and ways to reduce foreign imports.

Olof Sköld, from the same agency, focused his presentation on trade norms and how they facilitate trade by providing product descriptions and quality standards, while also impacting on food waste when products aren’t accepted by buyers because of esthetical reasons. On a similar note, there is a bureaucratic issue related to the access to statistics. For example, in Sweden, whole products fall under the purview of the Swedish Board of Agriculture, while cut and packaged products are under responsibility of the National Food Agency. Olof Sköld noted that there is a lot of trading statistics which could be used to track where imported foodstuffs come from and how consumption patterns have changed.

Jan Lundqvist, Stockholm International Water Institute focused his talk on the change in food production discourse throughout the years: from being heavily influenced by Thomas Malthus and his views on food scarcity being the result of overpopulation, to how modern production levels and purchasing power has increased together with population numbers. What has also changed is food habits that lean towards more meat consumption and subsequent increase in water and other inputs needed to produce the same amount of calories as before. From this perspective food waste could be seen as an underlying reason of malnutrition caused by eating too much nutrient poor foodstuffs; distribution and accessibility are the main questions of today’s world, not food quantity.

The workshop ended with a series of roundtable discussions where the participants identified and reasoned about the challenges, opportunities and knowledge gaps relating to food waste. The discussion included such diverse topics as agricultural practices in primary production, the supermarket principle of avoiding empty shelves, communication between actors, behavioural patterns of consumers, packaging and storage and more.

The results from the workshop will be summarised shortly and will provide a foundation for the final report by the Expert Group to be launched in autumn 2016. The report will also include a list of prioritized needs and showcase possible solutions to food waste, aiming to inspire and guide Swedish stakeholders to action.