Of roughly 4 billion tons of food produced globally for human consumption per year, one-third is lost or wasted, according to estimates by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
In the estimates, food “losses” and food “waste” are separate categories. The former occurs during the production to retailing stages, while the latter concerns food that is discarded at the consumption stage.
Food losses in Japan are estimated at 5 million tons to 8 million tons annually, roughly equivalent to the amount of rice harvested in the country per year.
In an effort to scale back losses of processed foods--confectionery, seasonings, drinks, instant noodles and the like--a six-month experiment kicked off this month that involves 35 big companies, including food makers, wholesalers and retailers.
Customarily, retailers refuse to accept processed foods for which one-third of the period from production to best-before dates has passed. Thus, food makers are saddled with growing losses.
In the United States and Europe, food makers are able to ship their products until later days of the period. In the experiment, retailers accept processed foods for which up to half of the period from production to best-before dates has passed. This allows the companies to check the level of losses that can be reduced in this manner.
Individual businesses cannot easily change the way they operate in the face of customs that have taken root in the world of commerce. Thus, industry-wide collaboration is necessary.
Retailers refusing to accept processed foods for which one-third of the period from production to best-before dates has passed is one problem. But there are others, too. With regard to stocks kept in distribution centers, major retailers often return food items to makers if two-thirds of the period has passed.
When retailers change goods on their store shelves, they tend to delay placing orders until immediately before making the switch. Because of that, makers tend to hold excessive stocks, fearing they will be unable to supply goods on demand.
We hope the 35 companies involved in the experiment will try to solve those problems.
Food banks and other groups that distribute returned food to welfare organizations are becoming more active. We hope to see a transformation in our country's economic and social structures, so that food produced for human consumption is actually eaten as much as possible.
We also hope that the experiment will go beyond processed foods to items that have shorter periods until their best-before or expiration dates and are more susceptible to daily supply-demand fluctuations, such as tofu, milk, fresh vegetables, ready-to-eat deli offerings and "bento" box meals.
We understand that companies must do their best to satisfy consumer demand for freshness, convenience and variety. But it is also important for them to see the reality of the huge volume of farm produce and other food items that are being trashed to satisfy those demands.
Corporations are apparently bound by a sense that it is easier and less costly to discard food items than to create a system to prevent losses. For them to be freed from this spell, we consumers must first change our way of thinking.
In developing countries, there are many kinds of food that spoil at production sites because of inadequate transportation and storage facilities. To solve the problem, developed countries need to make investments or offer aid.
But more than anything, it is our responsibility as citizens of a developed nation to move away from our distribution and consumption structure that invites losses and waste of precious food resources.