Over 15% of food is lost before leaving the farm - WWF report

Posted on July, 21 2021

A new WWF report shows that 1.2 billion tonnes of food produced globally is lost before it even leaves the farm – the CAP and Farm to Fork Strategy need to ensure the EU tackles its share of the problem.
The Driven to Waste report, released today by WWF-UK and British retailer Tesco, finds that at the farming stage alone, 1.2 billion tonnes  or 15.3%   of food produced around the world is lost during harvest or slaughter operations.

The new estimates mean that as
 much as 40% of all food is never eaten when both farming and post-farming are taken into account. Previous estimates on food waste, including by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) [1], only look at waste occurring after the food has been harvested – as a result, they may be greatly underestimating the magnitude of the problem.

The report also suggests that food loss on farms is an overlooked problem in Europe and other industrialised regions, which tend to focus on food waste happening at retail and consumer levels. 

Contrary to the widely held belief that farm-stage food losses are particularly acute in lower-income regions, the new data shows that 58% of global farm-stage food waste actually occurs in middle- and high-income regions [4], despite their higher on-farm mechanisation, better infrastructure and more advanced agronomic practices. One of the multiple factors behind this is agricultural overproduction and the saturation of markets, which drives prices down and creates a structural problem that perpetuates waste.

Driven to Waste makes it clear that providing access to technology and training on farms is not enough; decisions made further down the supply chain by business and governments have a significant impact on the levels of food lost or wasted on farms,” said Lilly Da Gama, Food Loss and Waste Programme Manager at WWF-UK and one of the report’s lead authors. “To achieve a meaningful reduction, national governments and market actors must take action to support farmers across the world and commit to halving food waste across all stages of the supply chain. Current policies are not ambitious enough.”

"The EU has long overlooked the importance of food waste happening at the earliest stages of the supply chain. These new estimates should come as a rallying cry: we can no longer close our eyes to this reality or postpone action," said Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer for Food and Agriculture at WWF European Policy Office. "From too strict aesthetic specifications for farm produce and poor farm labour conditions to dysfunctional markets and policies that disregard the impacts of food waste, there are multiple factors across the food system that contribute to this worrying trend and must be addressed. The task may seem daunting, but it is within reach if all actors engage and do their part."

The EU has two upcoming opportunities to better address food waste at farm level:

CAP Strategic Plans: With the political agreement on the CAP reform reached, EU farm ministers are now finalising the drafts of their national strategic plans, in which they set out how they’ll implement the CAP until 2027. One of the explicit objectives of the new CAP is to address food waste, but given the lack of awareness, it risks being sidelined by other competing priorities.

During the design and review of the plans, Member States and the European Commission need to work hand in hand to ensure that CAP funds are allocated to food loss and waste prevention actions at farm level. Given the limited experience in this regard, the Commission must provide guidance on how to use CAP tools smartly to achieve this objective, with a special attention to supporting the development of short food supply chains, which lower the risks of generating food waste.

Farm to Fork vote in the European Parliament: In September, MEPs from the Agriculture and Environment Committees are expected to vote on their own-initiative report on the Farm to Fork Strategy, which will be followed by a plenary vote later in autumn.

In the report, MEPs need to call on the Commission to enhance food waste data collection at the farm level, and to make sure this crucial stage of the food supply chain is fully covered by the EU food waste reduction targets announced for 2030 in the Farm to Fork Strategy [5].

For more on the Driven to Waste report, including how to contact the authors, please follow this link.

Contact at WWF European Policy Office:
Jabier Ruiz
Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture & Food Systems
WWF European Policy Office

Bartosz Brzezinski
Communications Officer
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 484 28 15 10

Annex: Impact of food waste on land and climate

Producing food uses a huge amount of land, water and energy, so wasted food significantly impacts climate change – previous estimates suggest that food waste accounts for 8% of greenhouse gases (GHG). Driven To Waste’s new data indicate that the numbers are even more substantial, pointing to a contribution of approximately 10% of all GHG emissions. This is the equivalent of nearly twice the emissions produced by all the cars driven in the US and Europe in one year.

And, as agricultural resource-use expands around the world, 4.4 million km2 of agricultural land and 760km3 of water are used to produce the 1.2 billion tonnes of wasted food. This equates to a landmass larger than the Indian subcontinent and water volume equivalent to 304 million Olympic swimming pools - and this doesn’t even include the additional resources used to produce food, that is wasted further down the supply chain.

Notes to editors

[1] In 2011, FAO estimated that roughly 1.3 billion tonnes or about one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted annually. Source: FAO (2011). Global Food Losses And Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention. Rome. http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/flw-data 

[2] There is often a distinction made between ‘food loss’ and ‘food waste’. Food loss is frequently used to refer to agricultural production that is lost unintentionally because of a variety of factors including market conditions, poor infrastructure, poor agricultural practices, pests, disease, natural disasters and weather events. By contrast, food waste is often perceived as being caused by negligence or a conscious decision to discard food, often at the retail or consumer stages. However, this distinction can be misleading if it is taken to imply that much of the food loss and waste occurring in the early stages of the supply chain is not due to human decision or error. The Driven to Waste report does not make this distinction between food loss and waste, as its findings illustrate that there are a multitude of human factors (conscious decisions or otherwise) that drive food waste at farm level and elsewhere within the supply chain.

[3] The Driven to Waste report considers the term food waste at the farm stage to apply to any outputs from primary food production that are, or were at some point, intended for human consumption but which end up either not being harvested or sent to one of a range of food waste destinations.

[4] When examined on a per capita basis, farm-stage waste is far more significant in industrialised regions such as Europe, the US, Canada and Industrialised Asia than in low-income countries (see figure on the right).

[5] SDG 12.3: The European Commission states that it is “committed to SDG 12.3 of halving per capita food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030” but does not focus on the second half of the SDG which states “reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” by 2030.
As much as 40% of all food could be wasted globally when both farming and post-farming are taken into account, shows new WWF study.
The report focuses on all types of food loss and waste occurring at the farm stage of food production, expanding the usual scope of food waste estimates to also cover harvest and slaughter operations.
There are multiple drivers that lead to so much food being wasted on farms, including decisions made further down the supply chain, so action is needed by all actors to correct these drivers and enable food waste reductions.
New data in the report show that contrary to widely-held perception, farm-stage food waste is higher in developed regions than in low-income countries across all food groups.