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Food waste report calls for collaboration

New report suggests Canadians waste a third of the food available for consumption each year

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Food waste expert Martin Gooch says he was surprised by the utter lack of media interest in his first report on the subject in Canada in 2010.

The report notably argued that every year Canada throws out $27-billion worth of perfectly edible food, equal to 2% of gross domestic product.

“Nothing happened,” recalled Gooch, founder and CEO of Value Chain Management International, an Oakville, Ont.-based food waste consultancy.  “I don’t think I got a single phone call.”

That changed this week when VCMI released its latest report on food waste.

Co-authored by Gooch (pictured) and five other food industry and government experts, including former federal agricultural minister Lyle Vanclief, it provides an up-to-date snapshot of food loss and waste in Canada.

READ: The towering food waste problem

Unlike previous reports, it also discusses and compares the situation in other countries, and proposes ways that Canadian industry and government can best tackle the complex challenge of fighting food waste.

According to Gooch, the size and scope of the food waste problem in Canada has changed little in the past six years.

This week’s report uses data from 2010 to estimate that 31% percent of total food available for consumption in retail was wasted in Canada that year.

That is roughly six billon kilos of food—enough to fill 60,000 rail cars stretching 1,000 kms in length.

“Those numbers likely haven’t changed much,” said Gooch, who has fielded several calls from journalists after the report was released on Wed. morning.  “What’s really changed is public interest and awareness of the impact of food waste.”

According to Gooch, the new report is essentially an analytical roadmap that shows where and how food waste occurs, and proposes ways to reduce it.

READ: How to solve the food waste problem

One major pothole it identifies is the lack of cohesive government regulation and legislation on the issue of food loss and waste —or FLW.

“FLW is not just caused by businesses and consumers,” said Gooch.  “A major problem is that like in many countries, no ministry or level of government in Canada has ultimate authority or accountable on the issue.”

The result, he added, is a hodgepodge of misaligned and unsynchronized policies that confuse, frustrate and infuriate food makers and retailers of all stripes.

Gooch pointed to one example referred to in the report about a Canadian meat processor that received a shipment of frozen meat from the U.S.

Because the meat had thawed during transport it was deemed unsafe for consumption by federal food inspectors.

“They tried sending it a landfill site, but many municipalities don’t accept organic waste,” said Gooch.

He said the company “had to fight” to send it to a biodigester, a mechanical stomach-like system that decomposes organic material using bacteria in an oxygen-free environment to make biogas and fertilizer.

READ: The ugly side of food waste

“It illustrates the lack of harmony between government and industry,” said Gooch.

Business dysfunctions, he added, are another FLW-creating hazard.Chief among them are what the report calls “opposing trends” that create inefficiencies in the food value chain.

They range from bonus-driven performances among food suppliers, processers and manufacturers to the hyper-competitive landscape in the world of food retail.

Gooch said that food industry leaders need to “take the bull by the horns on this issue, or governments will.”

The could lead, he added, to situations like in France where food retailers are no longer allowed to dispose of many spoiled food products, which must instead go to charities or into animal food.

“There is still a window of time for industry to take a leadership ship on FLW,” said Gooch.  “But it’s closing.”

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