New policy lab report explores the real costs of food waste

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The winners of the Global Food Security (GFS) Program Policy Lab competition released their policy recommendations at the UN climate change conference COP26 in November. Early career researchers from various disciplines across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have worked together over the past 6 months to make evidence-based policy recommendations to reduce food waste that we waste in our food system, tackling the enormous 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions resulting from food loss and waste.

The recommendations presented to COP26 are the conclusion of a policy report written by a UKRI-funded PhD. and Postdoctoral Fellows, “A Tool in the Toolbox: Can True Cost Accounting Eliminate Siled Thinking About Food Loss and Waste?” which will be released in November. The authors of the report developed their policy recommendations based on an extensive literature review and after conducting several focus groups with a variety of stakeholders spanning the entire food system.

Watch a summary of the report:

This report explores whether the True Cost Accounting (TCA) tool could be used to reduce the enormous amounts of food loss and waste that occur at every stage of our food system. Producing, consuming and wasting food generates impacts that cost our society, but these costs are not normally included in the price of the food we buy. But “we pay these damages in a hidden way”, explains an author of the report, Justine Pearce (Royal Veterinary College). “Currently, for every £ 1 paid directly for food, we incur an additional cost of £ 1 from hidden external costs.” An example of this is how the price of foods high in fat and sugar does not include the costs of managing public health campaigns, or the price of meat does not include the costs of managing the environmental impacts of breeding.

Impact on society
Food loss and waste has a surprisingly large impact on our society; Globally, more than a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year. If food loss and waste were represented as a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, causing 10% of our global emissions. This wasted food also represents wasted fertilizers, pesticides and human efforts, unnecessary use of farmland, transportation and consumer money. It is estimated that the economic costs of food loss and waste are 700 billion dollars per year, and the social costs 900 billion dollars per year. “COP26 is an urgent opportunity to get countries to reduce their greenhouse gases”, explains report author Siobhan Madeson (University of Aberystwyth) “and reducing food loss and waste is a key element of this “.

The authors of Early Career Researcher identify the TCA as a way to minimize the mismatch between those who create societal costs and those who pay them. The TCA can also be a tool to alert consumers to the social and environmental footprints of different food products and enable them to make choices to minimize food loss and waste; “We believe more work is needed to create a database linking relevant patterns and metrics […] potentially providing a simple and efficient labeling system for consumers. shares report author Miranda Burke (Lancaster University). Other recommendations they identify in their report concern the mandatory reporting of lost and wasted food by different stakeholders, with binding targets to reduce it each year, “because what gets measured is managed,” said one. author Mehroosh Tak (Royal Veterinary College). Early Career Researchers offer six policy recommendations and practice changes that could help achieve our net zero goals.

Read the Executive Summary: GFS Policy Lab Executive Summary Real Cost Accounting


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