COPENHAGEN//WASHINGTON — The World Resources Institute (WRI) today announced the first step in designing a global standard for measuring food loss and waste. The forthcoming guidance, called the “Food Loss and Waste Protocol,” will enable countries and companies to measure and monitor the food loss and waste that occur within their boundaries and value chains in a credible, practical, and consistent manner.

The announcement was made at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) conference in Copenhagen, with the leaders of UN Environment Programme (UNEP), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), WRI, and others. The Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) also participated in the forum.

Food loss and waste refers to food intended for human consumption that is not ultimately eaten. WRI estimates that halving the rate of food loss and waste by 2050 would close more than 20 percent of the gap between the food available today and what is needed in 2050.

“Meeting the world’s growing food demand is one of the great challenges we face. But we can shift this dynamic by greatly reducing food loss and waste, a critical step in ensuring that all people have enough food to meet their needs,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “Developing a consistent, global standard to measure food loss and waste will help create a more sustainable future for people and the planet.”

Globally, a significant amount of food is lost and wasted each year. One-third of food by weight (or one-quarter measured by calories) intended for people is not ultimately consumed. About two-thirds of the food calories lost in developing countries occurs immediately after harvest and in storage. About half of the food calories wasted in developing countries occurs at the point of consumption, whether at home or when eating elsewhere.

“The absurd reality that one third of all the food we produce is lost or wasted each year has significant impacts on people and the planet,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. “Wasting and losing 1.3 billion tonnes of food annually is clearly an ethical issue given that 870 million people go hungry every day, not to mention the 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases this waste adds to the planet’s atmosphere.”

The Protocol will contribute to the “Think Eat Save: Reduce Your Food Print” campaign led by UNEP in collaboration with FAO, WRAP and other partners, as well as to FAO’s Save Food Initiative. The Protocol development will build on other programs, including engagement with EU FUSIONS, which is developing food wastage measurement guidance for the European Union.

“One of my priorities in FAO is opening our doors to potential allies. Fighting food loss and waste is clearly one area in which partnership is needed. Developing a global protocol can help provide clear measurements and indicators on which we can base guidance on how to reduce food loss and waste,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

The Protocol will provide guidance on multiple aspects of measuring food loss and waste. These include definitions, boundaries of what to measure, appropriate data sources and quantification methods, and how to evaluate tradeoffs between accuracy, completeness, relevance, and cost. By creating a global standard, the Protocol will ensure international consistency, enable comparability, and facilitate transparency by users. By using the Protocol, countries and companies will be able to identify how much and where food is being lost and wasted.

“We have committed to play a leading role in reducing food waste globally—not only in our stores but also in areas of shared responsibility from farm to fork," said Philip Clarke, CEO of Tesco, one of the world's largest food retailers. "Having a globally consistent standard for measuring food loss and waste will play an important role in taking effective, collaborative action to achieve our goals.”

WRI will convene numerous experts and stakeholders to develop the Protocol. Participants will include representatives from academia, the private sector, government, and civil society organizations.

“Public-private partnership will be a critical ingredient of this Protocol,” said Peter Bakker, President of the WBCSD. “We are delighted to be partnering with WRI again, supporting the development of this new Protocol. Bringing together experts and perspectives from a range of sectors is vital to ensuring that the measurement method is robust and will be widely adopted by the private sector, just as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol has been.”

Echoing the importance of collaboration, Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems for WRAP, said, “WRAP is delighted to lend its support to this ambitious project, availing of our extensive knowledge and practical experience of measuring food waste both in the home, the hospitality sector and the food retail and manufacturing sectors. Measuring the extent of food waste is a key requirement to engender action to reduce it, not only through highlighting the scale of the problem, but also to assess progress.”

During the 3GF session, Steer made an open invitation for interested parties to join the Food Loss and Waste Protocol development process.

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Photo: Tea Harvest, Palampur, India. Photographer Francesco Fiondella. Source: Flickr/CGIAR Climate