News & Blog

CFI Blog

Connecting Consumer Indifference on Food Waste and Global Food Insecurity

About 795 million of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Almost all of the hungry people, 780 million, live in developing countries, representing 12.9 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing countries.

There are challenges here in the U.S., too. A report from the Bread for the World Institute shows food insecurity increased health expenditures in the U.S. by $160 billion in 2014.

This is happening at a time when food waste in the United States is reaching record levels. A recent report from The Guardian says Americans toss out nearly as much food as they eat. The estimated total value of food loss at the retail and consumer level is $160 billion, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

How do U.S. consumers feel about these troubling trends? It’s a combination of guilt and indifference, according to a recent survey.

Ohio State University researchers say 80 percent of Americans feel guilty about throwing away food but 51 percent said it would be difficult to reduce household food waste. More than 40 percent said they don’t have time to worry about it.

It’s reminiscent of CFI’s research showing only 25 percent of consumers believe U.S. farmers have a responsibility to provide food for the rest of the world. What consumers really care about, according to the survey, is having access to healthy, affordable food.

Reducing food waste represents only one of three major issues that must be addressed. Reducing global food insecurity also requires the responsible use of technology and improving food purchasing power for the world’s poorest people.

Farmers can build support for today’s farming by talking about how the systems they use on the farm today helps keep healthy food affordable. These same systems help farmers produce more using fewer resources, which is critical in order to feed a growing global population.

The researchers at Ohio State see beneficial areas in which to focus information-sharing and policy efforts to address the food waste issue:

  • Increase consumer awareness of the negative environmental impact of dumping massive amounts of food in our nation’s landfills
  • Create uniform national standards for “Sell by” and “Use by” dates on food packaging
  • Come up with better data on measuring household waste

The Ohio State team is developing a smartphone app to better measure household food waste and bring about better consumer understanding. As it stands now, they say most consumers feel they are doing as good or better than everybody else when it comes to household food waste. And researchers in Illinois are studying technology that would help fruits and vegetables to be harvested at ideal times in order to achieve peak nutritional value while preserving shelf life.

Many people are uncomfortable with modern food production systems and the size and scale of today’s farming operations and that’s understandable. Modern farming innovations like genetically modified seed and indoor animal housing┬ásystems allow farmers to produce safe food using fewer resources. The added benefit is holding down costs and increasing production to feed more people.

Helping consumers understand that food system stakeholders value what is important to them goes a long way toward building trust.