Discarding food vs. starving people – Inefficient and immoral?

Halle (Saale), 17 October 2012 – According to recent studies about one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or discarded. At the same time, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that ca. 925 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition. This is the context of the current discussion about whether the global hunger problem could be solved when people in rich countries would deal with food more responsibly. The IAMO Policy Brief 7 is a platform for Ulrich Koester, Professor at Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, to review this up-to-date problem and discuss moral aspects as well as potential solutions.

The intensive debate was prompted by a study to quantify food wastes, commissioned in March 2012 by the German Federal Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). The study found that in Germany alone almost 11 million tons of food are annually discarded by industry, trade, large consumers and private households. A four-person household, e.g., produces food losses of some Euros 940 per year. This figure implies which good deeds could be done for the poor when food was dealt with more carefully. Koester argues that this interpretation is not commensurate because food purchases do not only cover constituents of agricultural produce but also complimentary products and services.

Discarding food means that parts of input resources for food production are squandered. Food waste could be minimised if supplies were better adapted to actual demands at every level of the value added chain. It is uncertain, though, whether actions such as increased goods deliveries to retailers and higher purchasing frequencies of consumers, who also spend considerable resources in terms of terms as well travelling and transport expenses, can really contribute to social welfare. Koester argues that the assumption is misleading that food waste quantities identified in the study are really a squandering of resources in their full amounts.

The discussion implicitly insinuates that non-used food in rich countries could be made available to starving people in other countries. However, one ton less food in rich countries is not the equivalent to one ton more food in poor countries. Wastes in rich countries are produced from other food than requested by starving people elsewhere. To this adds that reduced wastes could not be transferred free of charge to poor countries. Hence, the underlying problem is insufficiency of quality and production volumes of food in poor countries as well as inadequate purchase power to afford food. The long-term aim is to provide incentives to increase food production in such region.

Discarding edible food understandably is a moral problem for many people because starving people in poor countries are not capable of even satisfying their basic needs. ‘Reduction of discarding by one side, however, will not automatically lead to equivalent high consumption on the other. It would be a commendable future task to review political directives and economic actions with a view to moral and global hunger’, concludes Professor Ulrich Koester.

The complete argumentation regarding this subject is provided in IAMO Policy Brief 7 on the following homepage: www.iamo.de/en

The publication series IAMO Policy Brief is published at irregular intervals and provides a platform for research findings and outcomes of the Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO) with social relevance to be communicated accessibly and entertainingly to a broad audience. Key target groups include political decision-makers, mass media representatives and the general public.

Further information

FAO (2011): Food Losses and Food Waste, Extent, Causes and Prevention. Study conducted for the International Congress SAVE FOOD! at Interpac. Düsseldorf, Germany.

Universität Stuttgart Institut für Siedlungswasserbau, Wassergüte- und Abfallwirtschaft (2012): Ermittlung der weggeworfenen Lebensmittelmengen und Vorschläge zur Verminderung der Wegwerfrate bei Lebensmitteln in Deutschland.

About IAMO

The Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO) is an internationally recognised research institution. With more than 60 researchers and in cooperation with other renowned institutes, IAMO scientifically investigates fundamental issues in the agricultural and food sectors and rural regions. Central and Eastern Europe as well as Central and Eastern Asia are the main regions under review. Since its foundation in 1994, IAMO has been a member of the Leibniz Community (WGL) as an extramural research institute.

Academic contact

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult.
Ulrich Koester
Institute of Agricultural Economics
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Wilhelm-Seelig-Platz 6/7
24118 Kiel
Phone +49 (0)431 8804436
Fax +49 (0)345 8804592
E-mail ukoester@ae.uni-kiel.de

Public relations contact

Daniela Schimming
Public Relations
Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO)
Theodor-Lieser-Straße 2
06120 Halle (Saale)
Phone +49 (0)345 2928330
Fax +49 (0)345 2928499
E-mail presse@iamo.de

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