Discussion around the waste of food predominates at the end of the supply chain, the supermarket shelf. The focus of food waste around this area of the food industry led to France becoming the first country to legally force supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities and food banks. But of the 7.1 million tonnes of food annually wasted in France only 11% of this comes from shops.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that a third of the food made for human consumption is squandered. Each year around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted worldwide and the majority of this food is lost before it reaches a consumer shelf. This is mostly due to crops not being harvested and loss during transport and storage.
European farmers can find that it costs more to harvest the crop than it will make in a saturated market. A detailed study in 2009 found that wasted crops in Italy had a nominal value of around €3.5 billion. Attempts to combat this issue often lead to overproduction, such as the European Union’s policy of guaranteeing a fixed price for farmers regardless of the market size leading to additional cost to dispose of the unused food due to lack of demand.
Paradoxically it would seem that being frugal, to reduce this food waste, would have a colossal economic cost. A study in 2017 found that food waste in Europe equated to 76 kilograms per person per year, which they labelled an “unsustainable level of waste”. Yet they predicted that removing this waste this could lead to the loss of 600,000 jobs in Germany alone. This highlights the complexity of the relationship of what we eat and what we need.
Economics applicants can research EU and other international regulations on food prices and the effects of this on their respective markets. HSPS applicants can consider government rhetoric related to the overemphasis on waste by supermarkets compared to limited action earlier in the supply chain.