WWF finds enormous rate of food waste in produce

Drilling down into the issue of food waste in the United States, the World Wildlife Fund studied a specific set of farms and found that 40 percent of tomatoes, 39 percent of peaches, 56 percent of romaine lettuce, and 2 percent of processing potatoes were left in the field rather than harvested. It arrived at those results by following the farms, located in Florida, New Jersey, Idaho, and Arizona, during the 2017-2018 growing season.

“When food is lost at any point on its journey from farm to plate, that loss contributes to wasted land, water, and other resources used to produce that food,” said Pete Pearson, director of food loss and waste at WWF, in a statement. “There’s incredible opportunity to learn what drives food loss in domestic production and distribution, and to influence import markets by finding better global practices that could reduce agricultural expansion in other parts of the world.”

WWF collected baseline primary data from farms on post-harvest losses of fresh and processing peaches, processing potatoes, fresh and processing tomatoes, and romaine lettuce. WWF also supported a Santa Clara University study of losses for 10 specialty crops in California. The two studies combined to produce both quantitative and qualitative data that show why these losses are occurring.

“In most circumstances, underutilization occurs because of a combination of market inefficiencies, poor information flows, cosmetic and quality standards, labor shortages and costs, and consumer expectations,” the report said. Farmers faced difficulties and losses if they harvested produce in excess of existing contracts with retailers, rescued unmarketable produce, or allowed outside organizations or gleaners to rescue this food. “This all leads to unintended loss of produce,” WWF said.

The Santa Clara study of 10 specialty crops in California found loss rates ranging from 4 percent for tomatoes to 157 percent for hearts of romaine (due to the discarding of the outer leaves, which far exceeded the amount that remained in the hearts).

Among other things, farmers in the study said tax incentives for donations could reduce waste as long as the infrastructure was in place to distribute donated food. Growers also repeatedly mentioned the USDA Farm to School efforts, formalized by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, as effective and beneficial for farmers in channeling excess production to local school breakfast and lunch programs.

WWF released the report ahead of September’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, where WWF will work on the Forest, Food, and Land Challenge. The goal is to improve food production and consumption, conserve forests and habitats, and efficiently use land to deliver up to 30 percent of the climate solutions needed by 2030, as identified by the Paris Climate Agreement. Food waste accounts for about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, President Trump pulled out of the Paris accord, but states such as California are making progress toward meeting their emissions goals.