Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system

P Alexander, C Brown, A Arneth, J Finnigan, D Moran, MDA Rounsevell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Losses at every stage in the food system influence the extent to which nutritional requirements of a growing global population can be sustainably met. Inefficiencies and losses in agricultural production and consumer behaviour all play a role. This paper aims to understand better the magnitude of different losses and to provide insights into how these influence overall food system efficiency. We take a systems view from primary production of agricultural biomass through to human food requirements and consumption. Quantities and losses over ten stages are calculated and compared in terms of dry mass, wet mass, protein and energy. The comparison reveals significant differences between these measurements, and the potential for wet mass figures used in previous studies to be misleading. The results suggest that due to cumulative losses, the proportion of global agricultural dry biomass consumed as food is just 6% (9.0% for energy and 7.6% for protein), and 24.8% of harvest biomass (31.9% for energy and 27.8% for protein). The highest rates of loss are associated with livestock production, although the largest absolute losses of biomass occur prior to harvest. Losses of harvested crops were also found to be substantial, with 44.0% of crop dry matter (36.9% of energy and 50.1% of protein) lost prior to human consumption. If human over-consumption, defined as food consumption in excess of nutritional requirements, is included as an additional inefficiency, 48.4% of harvested crops were found to be lost (53.2% of energy and 42.3% of protein). Over-eating was found to be at least as large a contributor to food system losses as consumer food waste. The findings suggest that influencing consumer behaviour, e.g. to eat less animal products, or to reduce per capita consumption closer to nutrient requirements, offer substantial potential to improve food security for the rising global population in a sustainable manner.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190 - 200
Number of pages11
JournalAgricultural Systems
Volume153
Early online date16 Feb 2017
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 16 Feb 2017

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nutrient requirements
consumer behavior
energy
proteins
biomass
crops
overeating
food waste
animal products
livestock production
bioenergy
food security
food consumption
primary productivity
foods
agriculture

Bibliographical note

1030590
1031405

Cite this

Alexander, P., Brown, C., Arneth, A., Finnigan, J., Moran, D., & Rounsevell, MDA. (2017). Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system. Agricultural Systems, 153, 190 - 200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2017.01.014
Alexander, P ; Brown, C ; Arneth, A ; Finnigan, J ; Moran, D ; Rounsevell, MDA. / Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system. In: Agricultural Systems. 2017 ; Vol. 153. pp. 190 - 200.
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Alexander, P, Brown, C, Arneth, A, Finnigan, J, Moran, D & Rounsevell, MDA 2017, 'Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system', Agricultural Systems, vol. 153, pp. 190 - 200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2017.01.014

Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system. / Alexander, P; Brown, C; Arneth, A; Finnigan, J; Moran, D; Rounsevell, MDA.

In: Agricultural Systems, Vol. 153, 16.02.2017, p. 190 - 200.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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T1 - Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system

AU - Alexander, P

AU - Brown, C

AU - Arneth, A

AU - Finnigan, J

AU - Moran, D

AU - Rounsevell, MDA

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PY - 2017/2/16

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N2 - Losses at every stage in the food system influence the extent to which nutritional requirements of a growing global population can be sustainably met. Inefficiencies and losses in agricultural production and consumer behaviour all play a role. This paper aims to understand better the magnitude of different losses and to provide insights into how these influence overall food system efficiency. We take a systems view from primary production of agricultural biomass through to human food requirements and consumption. Quantities and losses over ten stages are calculated and compared in terms of dry mass, wet mass, protein and energy. The comparison reveals significant differences between these measurements, and the potential for wet mass figures used in previous studies to be misleading. The results suggest that due to cumulative losses, the proportion of global agricultural dry biomass consumed as food is just 6% (9.0% for energy and 7.6% for protein), and 24.8% of harvest biomass (31.9% for energy and 27.8% for protein). The highest rates of loss are associated with livestock production, although the largest absolute losses of biomass occur prior to harvest. Losses of harvested crops were also found to be substantial, with 44.0% of crop dry matter (36.9% of energy and 50.1% of protein) lost prior to human consumption. If human over-consumption, defined as food consumption in excess of nutritional requirements, is included as an additional inefficiency, 48.4% of harvested crops were found to be lost (53.2% of energy and 42.3% of protein). Over-eating was found to be at least as large a contributor to food system losses as consumer food waste. The findings suggest that influencing consumer behaviour, e.g. to eat less animal products, or to reduce per capita consumption closer to nutrient requirements, offer substantial potential to improve food security for the rising global population in a sustainable manner.

AB - Losses at every stage in the food system influence the extent to which nutritional requirements of a growing global population can be sustainably met. Inefficiencies and losses in agricultural production and consumer behaviour all play a role. This paper aims to understand better the magnitude of different losses and to provide insights into how these influence overall food system efficiency. We take a systems view from primary production of agricultural biomass through to human food requirements and consumption. Quantities and losses over ten stages are calculated and compared in terms of dry mass, wet mass, protein and energy. The comparison reveals significant differences between these measurements, and the potential for wet mass figures used in previous studies to be misleading. The results suggest that due to cumulative losses, the proportion of global agricultural dry biomass consumed as food is just 6% (9.0% for energy and 7.6% for protein), and 24.8% of harvest biomass (31.9% for energy and 27.8% for protein). The highest rates of loss are associated with livestock production, although the largest absolute losses of biomass occur prior to harvest. Losses of harvested crops were also found to be substantial, with 44.0% of crop dry matter (36.9% of energy and 50.1% of protein) lost prior to human consumption. If human over-consumption, defined as food consumption in excess of nutritional requirements, is included as an additional inefficiency, 48.4% of harvested crops were found to be lost (53.2% of energy and 42.3% of protein). Over-eating was found to be at least as large a contributor to food system losses as consumer food waste. The findings suggest that influencing consumer behaviour, e.g. to eat less animal products, or to reduce per capita consumption closer to nutrient requirements, offer substantial potential to improve food security for the rising global population in a sustainable manner.

U2 - 10.1016/j.agsy.2017.01.014

DO - 10.1016/j.agsy.2017.01.014

M3 - Article

VL - 153

SP - 190

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JO - Agricultural Systems

JF - Agricultural Systems

SN - 0308-521X

ER -

Alexander P, Brown C, Arneth A, Finnigan J, Moran D, Rounsevell MDA. Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system. Agricultural Systems. 2017 Feb 16;153:190 - 200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2017.01.014