Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food every year, cramming landfills with at least $165 billion worth of produce and meats at a time when hundreds of millions of people suffer from chronic hunger globally, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The analysis, a compilation of various studies and statistics, found that waste exists from farm to fork even as an ongoing drought threatens to boost food prices. But the resources that the government has devoted to identifying where the inefficiencies exist and how to combat them pale in comparison with efforts underway in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, the report concluded.
For now, the relatively low U.S. prices make it easy to toss food, which may explain why the average American family of four ends up trashing the equivalent of up to $2,275 worth of food each year, the report said. These wasteful tendencies have worsened over time, with the average American dumping 10 times as much food as a consumer in Southeast Asia, up 50 percent from the 1970s.
Against that backdrop, it’s no wonder that food makes up the largest component of solid waste in landfills, said Dana Gunders, the NRDC scientist who authored the study. The frustration for environmentalists is that natural resources — water, land and energy — are used to produce all that uneaten food, which is why the NRDC is weighing in on the topic, Gunders said.
“We’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path,” she said in a statement. “That’s money and precious resources down the drain.”
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of “superweeds”, according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.
The so-called miracle crops, which were first sold in the US about 20 years ago and which are now grown in 29 countries on about 1.5bn hectares (3.7bn acres) of land, have been billed as potential solutions to food crises, climate change and soil erosion, but the assessment finds that they have not lived up to their promises.
The report claims that hunger has reached “epic proportions” since the technology was developed. Besides this, only two GM “traits” have been developed on any significant scale, despite investments of tens of billions of dollars, and benefits such as drought resistance and salt tolerance have yet to materialise on any scale.
Most worrisome, say the authors of the Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, is the greatly increased use of synthetic chemicals, used to control pests despite biotech companies’ justification that GM-engineered crops would reduce insecticide use.
In China, where insect-resistant Bt cotton is widely planted, populations of pests that previously posed only minor problems have increased 12-fold since 1997. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any benefits of planting Bt cotton have been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat them.
Additionally, soya growers in Argentina and Brazil have been found to use twice as much herbicide on their GM as they do on conventional crops, and a survey by Navdanya International, in India, showed that pesticide use increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced.
On May 24, I’ll be giving a speech in Washington, D.C . to draw attention to farming families in the developing world and the important role they play in cutting hunger and poverty. I need your help in making the case about why small farmers are so important – in fact, I want you to share your best ideas and help spread the word.
Small Farmers Are the Answer
Why farming? Many people don’t realize it, but most of the world’s poorest people are small farmers. They get their food and income farming small plots of land. These farming families often don’t have good seeds, equipment, reliable markets, or money to invest that helps them get the most out of their land. So they work hard, but they get no traction, and more often than not, they stay hungry and poor.
We know that smart investments in farming families help them become self-sufficient. We know that increasing productivity while preserving the environment leads to higher incomes and better lives over the long-term. But governments are not living up to their pledges to provide this kind of support to small farmers.
Solving hunger and poverty is both an urgent problem and long-term challenge. But what gives me hope is that we know that investments are working.