“From an ethical perspective, there is simply no room for food losses while around 800 million people in the world starve.” The statement is from the European Union Ambassador to Brazil, João Gomes Cravinho, at the opening of the International European Union-Brazil Seminar on Food Losses and Wastage of Food in Agrifood Chains: Opportunities for Public Policies.
On Thursday (20/09) the seminar in Brasilia addressed the findings of a survey on food consumption habits and wastage that revealed that 41.6 kilos of food are wasted per person every year in Brazil. Every Brazilian household throws away 353 grams of food on a daily basis, which makes for an alarming total of 128.8 kilos of food that go into the rubbish bin.
The most wasted food items are rice (22%), beef (20%), beans (16%), and chicken (15%), which are used in most people's meals. Reasons for wastage according to the researchers include Brazilian consumers fondness of good taste and plentifulness. Failure to put leftovers to good use is the primary factor for rice and beans going to waste. More than 77 percent of respondents admitted that they like to have fresh food for every meal, which prompts 56 percent of them to cook two or more times a day, thus reinforcing the notion that "it is always better to have too much than too little.”
“This fondness of good taste and freshness ultimately has an additional impact, i.e., excess food going to waste or when an event affects the household’s plans," said Carlos Eduardo Lourenço, a marketing professor with the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) and consultant for the EU-Brazil Sector Dialogues project who is leading the team analysing the survey data. According to Lourenço, examples of such events include a person who ended up throwing away four kilos of meat after a barbecue, or someone who over salted the cooked beans and ended up throwing everything away instead of trying to use the food.
The need for large quantities of groceries to keep the pantry well stocked was confirmed by 68 percent of respondents; 52 percent of these considered that a surplus amount of food was important. Findings showed that 61 percent of families usually do one big monthly grocery shopping, in addition to two to four smaller visits to the supermarket throughout the month. According to the researchers, this habit leads to losses since it increases the likelihood of unnecessary items being bought, especially when the shopping spree is coupled with poor meal planning.
Respondents also displayed some contradictory behaviours. While 94 percent of respondents claim that it is important to avoid food wastage, 59 percent of them do not care if there is too much food on the table or in the pantry. "Brazilians like abundance, which is very commonplace in our culture," said Lourenço.
Another relevant insight is that 43 percent of people agree that “people they know throw food away regularly,” but when it comes to their own family’s behaviour this is not a significant issue. According to Lourenço, despite the considerable wastage, Brazilians are aware of the social impact of this behaviour and seem to make an effort to avoid it. “This awareness is reflected in the survey," he said.
According to Gustavo Porpino, an analyst with Embrapa and leader of the Sector Dialogues project, the data supports the notion of a diverse consumer market, and shows that a significant portion of the sample wastes little food, but some of it still wastes a lot. “Income and age will not account for the difference between those who waste more and those who wastage less food, but we realised that classes A and B are more likely to waste vegetables, even because lower income classes consume little of this kind of product,” he said.
The seminar brought together representatives from the Federal Government and foreign institutions at the Embrapa headquarters to discuss urgent ways of changing this state of affairs, such as the "National Strategy to Combat Food Losses and Wastage" that has recently been approved by the Interministerial Chamber of Food and Nutrition Security.
“One must face up to the fact that the situation is more complex than food wastage per se," warned the President of Embrapa, Mauricio Lopes. “This stems from a flaw in the economic framework that is now well established and has far-flung implications, including environmental implications since energy is used to produce food that will go unused.”
Ambassador Cravinho believes that the issue is not duly considered in the agenda of public debates, but considering that there will be 10 billion people on the planet by 2050, we need to think of ways to feed these people with safe and nutritious food. “It is crucial that we know how to choose public policies that will not force us to choose between feeding the planet or saving it.”
Cravinho said that Brazilian researchers working on this matter could rely on support by the EU. “Our priorities include cooperating with Brazil to tackle this challenge, which in fact is a challenge that concerns everyone,” he said. He stressed the commitment to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of reducing food losses by 50 percent by 2030.
The Minister of the Environment Edson Duarte thinks that actions are needed along all links in the chain: making sure that produce leaves the farms, with technologies and technical capabilities that boost yields while preserving the environment; ensuring that food reaches consumers’ tables for both fresh and large-scale consumption; and raising awareness of consumption so as to avoid losses.
“One third of all agricultural production is going to waste, whether in the post-harvest or along the entire food supply chain. If we fought this effectively, we would be combating hunger and lessening the pressure on our forests and our natural resources,” he said.
Also in attendance at the opening session were Lilian Rahal, National Secretary for Food and Nutrition Security of the Ministry of Social Development (MDS); Edegar de Oliveira Rosa, the coordinator of the WWF Food and Agriculture Programme, and Celso Moretti, Director of Research and Development with Embrapa.
Panel sessions were held on public policies for food security in Latin America (Andres Mejia Acosta, researcher at the King's College London); public policies and public-private partnerships for losses reduction: the Swedish case, presented by Professor Anita Lundström from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and Johan Hultén, from the Swedish Institute for Environmental Research; the Brazilian strategy for reducing food losses and wastage (Kathleen Machado, from the MDS); and the outlook of the EU-Brazil Sector Dialogues Facility on food wastage (Aline Bastos, from Embrapa Agroindústria de Alimentos). Survey findings were presented by Lourenço and researcher Luciana Vieira, from the FGV.
*Based on data from Embrapa’s press office and Agência Brasil
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