Opinion

The Great Debate

Stepping up to the plate to reduce food waste

How many times have you reached into the refrigerator, only to discover the yogurt or fruit juice you were looking forward to enjoying had passed its expiration date?

What next? Did you sling that yogurt into the trash? Pour the juice down the sink? You probably congratulated yourself on a lucky escape. After all, who knows what might have happened had you unwittingly consumed a food a few hours past its “sell by” date?

In fact, it’s likely you would never have noticed. Food date labels are typically unrelated to food safety. They are simply a manufacturer’s suggestions for “peak quality” and a shelf life they set by their own market standards. The dates don’t tell you when your food will spoil, nor do they indicate the safety of food.

A new date labels study released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic reveals that this mass confusion imposes costs on consumers and businesses and leads to a staggering amount of waste. In America, we throw away 40 percent of the food we produce every year. That’s nearly half our food — $165 billion dollars’ worth — in the garbage, instead of in our stomachs. Nine out of ten of us discard food — and likely are convinced we need to go out and buy more — because of the mistaken belief that the “sell by” date has a food safety implication for ourselves or our family.

It’s estimated that 160 billion pounds of food is dumped in the United States annually, in part due to this labeling confusion. That’s almost enough wasted food to fill up a football stadium every day. Discarded food is the biggest single contributor to solid waste in landfills. We’re throwing away perfectly good food at a time when one in six Americans is considered “food insecure,” meaning that they struggle to put food on their tables year-round. Globally, 28 percent of the world’s farmland is being used to produce food that is not being eaten. That’s an area bigger than China.

Awakening Africa’s sleeping agricultural giant

Hans Binswanger is the former senior adviser to the World Bank on rural development in Africa. He is currently an independent agriculture and development consultant based in South Africa. The opinions expressed are his own.

The World Bank’s recent study of the prospects of commercial agriculture in Africa focused primarily on the Guinea Savannahs that cover some 600 million hectares, of which about 400 million can be used for agriculture. Less than 10 percent of this area is currently cropped, making it one of the largest underused agricultural land reserves in the world.

During the past four decades, two similar, backward, landlocked, and largely rain-fed agricultural regions developed rapidly and became international agricultural powerhouses: The Cerrado of Brazil and Northeast Thailand. The difficult agro-ecological conditions, remoteness, and poverty levels of the two regions were successfully overcome, and the same should happen in the Guinea Savannahs.

from Africa News blog:

Selling Africa by the pound

The announcement by a U.S. investor that he has a deal to lease a swathe of South Sudan for farmland has again focused attention on foreigners trying to snap up African agricultural land.

A few months ago, South Korea’s Daweoo Logistics said it had secured rights to plant corn and palm oil in an even bigger patch of Madagascar - although local authorities said the deal was not done yet. Investors from Asia and the Gulf are looking elsewhere in Africa too.

Investor interest in farmland – not only in Africa – grew sharply after food prices shot to record highs last year. Although commodity prices have fallen since, there is still anticipation of long term demand growth once the world emerges from its current economic troubles.

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