Nearly 60% of all food produced in Canada each year ends up nourishing no one at all, but is instead either lost or wasted, according to a report published last week by Toronto-based Second Harvest.
The wasted product is “enough to feed every Canadian for five months,” CEO Lori Nikkel told media last week.
“There are two types of food loss and waste: avoidable, which occurs when produce, for example, makes it to market but is not purchased; and unavoidable, such as when inedible food byproducts, like animal bones, are discarded,” CBC explains, citing the Second Harvest report.
The release identifies a number of “root causes” of avoidable food loss and waste. At the production end, produce may be “left to rot in the field due to labour shortages, or low prices,” or plowed under after an order is cancelled. And then there is the phenomena of “by-catch”, where caught marine life “are tossed back into the water to die if they don’t match a quota.”
At both the retail and consumer end, best-before dates typically cause huge amounts of perfectly good food to be thrown out prematurely, Nikkel said. The date stamps “identify the ‘key freshness’ of a product, not its safety,” she explained, “and the dates are very conservative.”
The country’s throwaway habits carry a huge footprint, Second Harvest concluded. “Each year, food waste in Canada creates some 56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions,” including the methane gas created when food in landfills decomposes anaerobically.
Food waste places third on the Drawdown list of carbon reduction solutions, with the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 70.53 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.
The Second Harvest report contains “dozens of recommendations for industry and government aimed at preventing food loss and waste at the source, improving the redistribution and donation of edible food, and managing waste when it does occur,” CBC states. One critical finding is that “about a third” of all the food Canadians waste could be “rescued” and distributed to poor communities across Canada—though that’s easier said than done, Nikkel said, adding that “a big barrier to reducing food loss and waste is the ‘stigma’ associated with feeding people with diverted food.”
“We must demystify food which can be rescued from businesses and not call it waste,” she stressed. “This is unsold, this is surplus, this is excess food. It is perfectly edible.”
More broadly, “the outcomes of this report make it very clear that we need to radically change how we as Canadians value food,” Nikkel concluded. “The abundance of food we produce has led us to dismiss its intrinsic value.”