Topic 1.4: Definition of Food Loss and Food Waste

Food waste consists of food intended for human consumption that is discarded and lost, occurring at any stage of the supply chain from farming to households.

There are two forms: food loss and food waste, distinguished by when and why food is discarded.

Food loss arises from issues during production, storage, processing, and distribution, occurring before the food reaches consumers.

In contrast, food waste occurs after consumers obtain the food, resulting from deliberate decisions to discard edible items. However, both forms contribute to social and environmental challenges.

EU definition of food waste: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has worked towards the harmonisation of these notions, and food loss is usually considered as occurring along the food supply chain from harvest/slaughter/catch up to, but not including, the retail level. Food waste, on the other hand, occurs at the retail and consumption levels. Food diverted to other economic uses, such as animal feed, is not considered quantitative food loss or waste. Similarly, inedible parts should not be considered as food waste.

Believe it or not, globally, about 14 percent of food (which is worth a huge $400 billion!) doesn’t make it from the farm to the store, and an extra 17% gets wasted by stores and people like us. That’s a big problem we need to tackle. Food loss and food waste negatively impact food security and nutrition and significantly contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, environmental pollution, degradation of natural ecosystems, and biodiversity loss.

According to the United Nations plans (2022), this issue has become extremely important around the world, and a lot of experts explain how cutting down on food loss and waste isn’t just about saving food, it’s also about achieving big goals like making sure everyone has enough to eat (Goal No. 2) and being responsible about how we use resources (Goal No. 12).

Measuring food waste poses considerable challenges due to the limited availability of data from the food industry and the absence of universally accepted definitions for food waste, food loss, and food surplus. This issue is further complicated, as highlighted by variations in how these concepts are operationalised by institutions across different scales, sectors, and contexts. The definitions of these terms can shift depending on the specific location and the objectives in play. In contrast to food loss during production, post-harvest, and processing, as well as food waste in households, food service, and retail, food surplus is often characterised as any food within the food system that can readily be redirected for human consumption.

According to the FAO, measuring waste solely by weight, typically using tonnes as the reporting unit, has its limitations as it overlooks the economic value of various commodities. This approach can potentially lead to an overemphasis on low-value products simply because they are heavier. In terms of weight, a tonne of grain is equivalent to a tonne of fruit or a tonne of meat. However, when it comes to crafting policies aimed at reducing food waste, it becomes crucial to also consider the economic worth of these commodities. To address this issue, the FAO and the UN Environment Programme have collaboratively developed two distinct indices, namely the Food Loss Index (FLI) and the Food Waste Index (FWI).

EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste