Food wastage hysteria

In: Uncategorized

8 May 2008

The lead story of today’s Independent (London) is a hysterical rant about food wastage in Britain. It notes that:

“Each day, according to the government-backed report, Britons throw away 4.4 million apples, 1.6 million bananas, 1.3 million yoghurt pots, 660,000 eggs, 550,000 chickens, 300,000 packs of crisps and 440,000 ready meals.”

But to me the striking thing is that, in a population of 60m people, how little is wasted: “The roll call of daily waste costs an average home more than £420 a year but for a family with children the annual cost rises to £610”. But this means the average family with kids wastes less than £2 a day on food. Given the difficulty of matching food purchases to changing family circumstances this seems pretty efficient. A certain amount of food wastage is inevitable given the difficulties of matching individual purchases and consumption. Indeed it is desirable because it is symptomatic of living in a richer society.

It is worth noting that the government has played a role in whipping up such hysteria. The figures come from Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap), a government waste campaign.

In a related leader the Independent makes the correct point that it would be wrong to counterpose wasted food in Britain and food shortages in the developing world. But it immediately goes on to suggest such a moral link:

“Ordinary shoppers in Britain are not to blame for the rising price of food across the world. The fact that we are richer and consume more calories than vast swathes of humanity should not be a source of guilt. But in our increasingly connected and exploited world, there does exist a moral responsibility on all of us to consume resources responsibly and sustainably. And that includes food.”

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