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New policy lab report explores the true costs of food waste

The winners of the Global Food Security program (GFS) Policy Lab competition have released their policy recommendations at the United Nations COP26 Climate Change conference this November. Early Career Researchers from a variety of disciplines across the breadth of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have worked together over the past 6 months to establish evidence-based policy recommendations to reduce the food we waste throughout our food system, tackling the staggering 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions that arise from food loss and food waste.

The recommendations presented at COP26 are the conclusion of a policy-facing report written by UKRI funded Ph.D. and postdoctoral researchers, 'A tool in the toolkit: can True Cost Accounting remove siloed thinking about food loss and waste?' which will be released this November. The authors of the report developed their policy recommendations on the back of an in-depth literature review and after holding several focus groups with a variety of stakeholders spanning across the whole food system.

Watch a summary of the report:

This report explores if the tool of True Cost Accounting (TCA) could be used to reduce the huge amounts of food loss and waste that happens at every stage of our food system. Producing, consuming, and wasting food generates impacts that cost our society, but these costs are not normally included in the price of food we buy. However “we are paying for this damage in hidden ways” explains an author of the report, Justine Pearce (Royal Veterinary College). “Currently, for every £1 paid directly for food, we incur an additional £1 cost from hidden external costs“. An example of this is how the price of high-fat and high-sugar foods does not include the costs of running public health campaigns, or the price of meat does not include the costs of dealing with environmental impacts from livestock farming.

Impact on society 
Food loss and food waste have a surprisingly large impact on our society; globally, over a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year. If food loss and waste were represented as a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, causing 10% of our global emissions. This wasted food also represents wasted fertilizers, pesticides, and human effort, unnecessary use of farming land, transportation, and consumer money. It is estimated that the economic costs of food loss and waste are $700 billion a year, and social costs $900 billion a year. “COP26 is an urgent opportunity to get countries to decrease their greenhouse gases” author of the report Siobhan Maderson (Aberystwyth University) explains “and decreasing food loss and waste is a key part of that.”

The Early Career Researcher authors identify TCA as a way to minimize the mismatch between those who create societal costs, and those who pay for them. TCA can also be a tool to signal to consumers the social and environmental footprints of different food items and empower them to make choices to minimize food loss and waste; “we believe more work is needed to create a database linking relevant schemes and metrics […] potentially providing an effective holistic and simple labeling system for consumers.” shares report author Miranda Burke (Lancaster University). Other recommendations they identify in their report are for mandatory reporting of the food lost and wasted from different stakeholders, with binding targets to decrease this each year, “because what gets measured, gets managed” explained an author Mehroosh Tak (Royal Veterinary College). The early-career researchers propose six policy recommendations and changes to practices that could help meet our net zero goals.

Read the executive summary: GFS Policy Lab Executive Summary True Cost Accounting

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