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Clean your plate. It could save the planet.
Americans and people the world over waste prodigious amounts of food — an estimated one-third of all that’s produced worldwide. Reducing that spoilage could help feed a growing global population while also reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that occur both when the food is produced and when it’s left to rot in landfills.
Even Pope Francis has been drawing attention to the problem: “The ‘throw-away’ culture produces many bitter fruits, from wasting food to isolating many elderly people,” he said recently on his Twitter feed.
Doing something about food waste is another matter.
Farmers and food companies, after all, are in business to sell more of what they produce, not less. Consumers throw away food needlessly if they’re not sure whether it’s safe to eat. Still, the waste issue is drawing attention of policymakers in Washington and industry leaders worldwide in a way it never has before:
The Obama administration this year mounted an effort called the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, signing up food retailers and manufacturers to take steps to reduce or recycle food waste. ConAgra Foods, maker of such brands as Healthy Choice and Hunt’s, says it’s educating employees on ways to cut waste. It’s also standardizing a corporate policy on donations to food banks.
“The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the initiative.
Vilsack’s department is working with Cornell University to encourage changes in school lunchrooms to discourage kids from tossing out lunch items. Minor changes such as better lighting over a fruit bowl, or a catchy name like “X-ray Vision Carrots” can get kids to eat healthful foods instead of throwing them away, researchers found.
Meanwhile, the supermarket industry is working on ways to standardize the use of expiration dates on food labels.
The aim is to reduce consumer confusion about how long products are safe to eat. The Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration would be consulted on any label changes.
The U.S. Agency for International Development and major development donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also are trying to address the waste issue in poor countries, where subsistence farmers often lose precious crops to spoilage and pests because of lack of proper storage. On Wednesday, USAID announced it was soliciting bids from universities to study ways to cut back the spoilage of poor farmers’ crops.