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USDA ERS discussing food waste and food loss

In this feature on Food Choices & Health, the United States Department of Agriculture and Economic Research Service (ERS) discusses food loss and food waste and points out the distinction in meaning between the two. They describe food loss as includes moisture loss and cooking shrinkage; loss from mould, pests, or inadequate climate control; and food waste.

Food waste is thus a subcomponent of food loss, including edible food discarded by retailers due to colour or appearance and plate waste thrown away by consumers. It also finds that, if the farm to retail stage is excluded, and one only looks the later food chain stages, an estimated 31% of the food available for consumption at the retail and consumer levels was wasted in the US. This article also includes breakdowns of food losses at retailer versus consumer levels for different food groups and specific products.

The article draws on the following research carried out by USDA ERS:

The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, by Jean Buzby, Hodan Farah Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman, USDA, Economic Research Service, February 2014

Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, by Jeanine Bentley and Jean Buzby, USDA, Economic Research Service, April 2014

Read the full article here and see also the FCRN website for more information about food loss and food waste in the section on Waste and resource use here.

For detailed analysis of food loss and waste issues in the UK see the very detailed work by the Waste Resources Action Programme.  Many of the studies have been summarised in the waste section of the FCRN website (link above) but you can also go directly to WRAP’s food waste pages here.

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North America

North America is the northern subcontinent of the Americas covering about 16.5% of the Earth's land area. This large continent has a range of climates spanning Greenland’s permanent ice sheet and the dry deserts of Arizona. Both Canada and the USA are major food producers and some of the largest food exporters in the world. Industrial farms are the norm in North America, with high yields relative to other regions and only 2% of the population involved in agriculture.

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