The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 23, 2012

In U.S., food is wasted from farm to fork

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 to 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."

The analysis cites weak spots along every step of the food production chain.

On the farm, growers sometimes do not harvest foods because of poor market prices that make it difficult for them to recoup their labor and transportation costs, the report said.

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