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What is Food Loss and Waste?

Food loss and waste (FLW) is closely linked with the rise of globalization and industrialization. As the journey from farm to table increased, with the introduction of manufacturing and transportation, so did the amount of FLW.(1) But innovation can have both beneficial and harmful impacts. Globalization and industrialization allow us to have access to food from all over the world in all seasons of the year. Canadians can have access to mangoes from Mexico, while the rest of the world may benefit from our canola or beef. Innovations in technology can even help us use resources more wisely and allow us to store food so it lasts longer, but with all the moving, processing, and selection, there also comes increased opportunities for food to be lost or wasted.

Currently, around 1.3 billion tonnes (or one-third) of all food produced worldwide is either lost or wasted, making it one of the largest problems facing the world today.(1) The world’s FLW could feed as many as 2 billion people each year. Yet, 815 million people still do not have access to enough food to live a healthy lifestyle.(2) In Canada, $31 billion worth of food is lost or wasted annually. That’s around $100 worth of food a month for every Canadian household.(3)

Did You Know?

The yearly calories lost due to North American FLW alone could feed approximately 260 million people.(4)

FLW also costs us environmentally. When food ends up in the landfill, it breaks down and releases methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas emission (GHG) that’s 20–25 times more potent than carbon dioxide(3) and accounts for 7–8 per cent of total GHGs.(5) A warming climate caused by these emissions could see a 25 per cent reduction to crop yields within the agriculture industry.(6)

Did You Know?

If FLW were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of GHGs in the world, after the United States and China. FLW produces 3.3 billions tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.(7)

FLW can be broken into two distinct categories: food loss and food waste. Food loss occurs when there is a breakdown in the beginning of the food supply chain, during the production, storage, manufacturing, or distribution stages of the food cycle. If food is in the process of reaching consumers when it spoils, then it is considered food loss. In developing regions, this is the most common type. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 83 per cent of discarded food is due to loss in early stages of the food supply chain.(1)

Food waste on the other hand, occurs near the end of the food supply chain, during the retail or consumer stages of the cycle. If the food has successfully become accessible to the consumer but is not eaten before spoiling, then it is considered wasted. In developed regions, this is the most common type. For example, in North America and Oceania, 61 per cent of discarded food is from waste in later stages of the food supply chain.(1)

Not all food experts agree with this two-term distinction however, claiming that the term “loss” holds less weight than “waste” when the terms should hold an equal amount of responsibility. In truth, there are things we can do in all stages of the food supply chain to help reduce FLW. Many global sustainability challenges, such as climate change, poverty, food security, and resource preservation that face our world today, can be addressed through reducing FLW.

For more information on food loss and waste explore our Nourishing Minds publications here.


7 Ag for Life—Reduce Food Waste


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