The world wastes 1.6 billion tons of food every year. Loaded into 80 million standard skips (20 cubic meters) this would cover 60 percent of London, or 100 percent of all five New York boroughs, as well as Jersey and Newark. Graphic: The Guardian

By Suzanne Goldenberg
13 July 2016

(Guardian) – Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

From the fields and orchards of California to the population centres of the east coast, farmers and others on the food distribution chain say high-value and nutritious food is being sacrificed to retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection.

“It’s all about blemish-free produce,” says Jay Johnson, who ships fresh fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and central Florida. “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.” […]

Researchers acknowledge there is as yet no clear accounting of food loss in the US, although think tanks such as the World Resources Institute are working towards a more accurate reckoning.

Imperfect Produce, a subscription delivery service for “ugly” food in the San Francisco Bay area, estimates that about one-fifth of all fruit and vegetables are consigned to the dump because they do not conform to the industry standard of perfection.

But farmers, including Kirschenman, put the rejection rate far higher, depending on cosmetic slights to the produce because of growing conditions and weather.

That lost food is seen increasingly as a drag on household incomes – about $1,600 a year for a family of four – and a direct challenge to global efforts to fight hunger, poverty and climate change.

Globally, about one-third of food is wasted: 1.6bn tonnes of produce a year, with a value of about $1tn. If this wasted food were stacked in 20-cubic metre skips, it would fill 80m of them, enough to reach all the way to the moon, and encircle it once. Taking action to tackle this is not impossible, as countries like Denmark have shown. [more]

Half of all US food produce is thrown away, new research suggests

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