Food industry takes aim at food waste

The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity and an association of food manufacturing organizations will lead the research

Two Canadian food organizations have secured a grant worth more than $650,000 from the Wal-Mart Foundation to examine Canadian attitudes on food waste and to help Canadian food and beverage companies reduce the amount of waste that occurs during their manufacturing processes.

The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity and the Provision Coalition — an association of food manufacturing organizations — will lead the project, which is ultimately aimed at learning more about food waste and reducing it through education and the adoption of improving food manufacturing practices.

According to a recent study commissioned by Provision Coalition, Canada wasted 40 percent of the food that it produced in 2009.

The value of food waste that year was estimated at $27 billion, or two percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product, said the Provision Coalition report, citing research by food waste expert Martin Gooch.

Cher Mereweather, executive director at Provision Coalition, said concerns over food waste and sustainable food production practices are a priority among Provision Coalition’s member organizations.

“It’s all about the realization that (reducing food waste and improving sustainability) is a better way to do business,” said Mereweather.

“(The realization) that it’s a priority to our customers and consumers, and that we need to recognize and understand the environmental impacts (of food waste) across the supply chain.”

Food waste can occur at any point in the supply chain, from farms and ranches through packaging and processing, transportation, distribution, retailing and the food services and restaurant industry.

The most common point where waste occurs, however, is in Canadian homes.

According to Gooch, more than half of the food waste that occurred in Canada (51 percent) occurred at the consumer level, in Canadian households.

That means more than $13.5 billion worth of food was thrown out by consumers.

By comparison, approximately nine percent of food waste ($2.4 billion) occurred at the farm or ranch level through factors such as poor harvest management, spoilage, spillage or other types of losses.

The Wal-Mart Foundation grant will be used to understand and reduce food loss at various stages in the supply chain.

Mereweather said grant money will be allocated into three priority areas:

  • The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, through it annual public trust survey, will ask consumers specific questions about food waste to learn more about the factors that lead to waste at the household level.
  • With the help of Enviro-Stewards, an Ontario company that specializes in increasing productivity while reducing resource consumption, the project will conduct on-site assessments of manufacturing processes at 50 food and beverage manufacturing companies across Canada with the goal of reducing waste, improving efficiency and achieving waste reductions targets.
  • Through education and outreach programs, the project will engage employees at food manufacturing companies to increase awareness about food waste at work and at home.

Canadian food and beverage manufacturing companies that wish to take part in the project on a cost-shared basis are encouraged to contact Provision Coalition.

Work that receives project funding will commence this year and is expected to be completed in early 2019.

Mereweather said the issue of food waste has come into sharper focus during the past few years as Provision Coalition members and food manufacturers ponder “mega-challenges” that face the industry, such as concerns over climate change, carbon emissions, responsible sourcing and supply chain transparency.

The carbon footprint of global food production and distribution is huge.

The carbon emissions associated with food waste rank the issue as one of the most opportune areas for food manufacturers to reduce their carbon footprint and enhance sustainability.

“When food waste makes its way to the landfill, the (environmental) impact is actually much more significant than vehicles on the road, for example,” said Mereweather.

“That’s why it’s a priority for food companies. They are recognizing the impact of food that’s wasted and the sheer loss of dollars and cents … and all the embedded wasted energy — water, carbon emissions, labour.

“That’s the waste that’s happening in the system … and that’s why it’s such a strong priority.”

On April 19, Wal-Mart announced a commitment to achieve zero food waste by 2025 in its Canadian operations.

To address this significant issue more broadly, the Wal-Mart Foundation will donate $19 million in funding to support Canadian initiatives and research to reduce food waste along the food chain, from farm to fork, the company said.

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