Food Waste Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Food waste is an issue we must solve

The beef industry should play an active role in reducing food waste for multiple reasons. Here’s why.

In the land of plenty, we’re sure wasting a lot of food.

According to a study released by the USDA Economic Research Service, “ In the U.S., 31% — or 133 billion pounds — of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels go uneaten. That’s an estimated 141 trillion calories, or 1,249 calories per capita per day.”

Despite this abundance of food we have at our disposal in the U.S. today, one in eight Americans goes to bed hungry at night.

So what can we do about it?

READ: 5 ways cattle help the environment

It starts with the old saying, “waste not, want not,” and it’s time we start practicing that sentiment in our own food choices. Whether that’s proper meal planning, so your fruits and vegetables are used before they rot, or taking home leftovers at a restaurant, there’s numerous benefits to avoid wasting food.

Per the USDA report, “The top three food groups in terms of share of total value of food loss are meat, poultry, and fish (30%); vegetables (19%); and dairy products (17%).”

But is there a reasonable solution to reducing this waste?

For starters, what will motivate the general public to waste less? To create change, we must understand the repercussions of what this waste really means. The USDA says food loss impacts us in several ways. First, food waste means a loss of money and other resources such as land, water, labor and energy; negative externalities created throughout the food supply chain. Second, it means that negative externalities were created throughout the food supply chain. And third, the world population is growing, so more food will be needed to feed people.

READ: Could cattle be the solution to food waste?

If we truly want to get ahead of this problem, perhaps we need to look at the folks who are already working to address it.

According to a recent article featured in NPR, in France, giving leftover food to charity is no longer just an act of goodwill. “It’s a requirement under a 2016 law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.”

As written by Eleanor Beardsley, “While the world wastes about one-third of the food it produces, and France wastes as much as 66 pounds per person per year, Americans waste some 200 billion pounds of food a year. That is enough to fill up the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl stadium every day, says Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, about food waste in the United States. He says there are different ways of cutting back on food waste. For example, you can start from the end of the chain by banning food in landfills.”

In the article, Bloom praises the French law is great, but he thinks it could be a difficult sell in the U.S., given that businesses are less than excited about the government telling them what to do.

READ: Research shows salads are more harmful to planet than burgers

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where supermarkets have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," says Bloom.

He adds the shift to this policy has created a new perception of supermarkets in France. They are not only profit centers to merchandise food, but they are more environmentally friendly and humanitarian, too.

As beef producers, we should be part of these discussion, particularly since meat is one of the top three things wasted in the U.S. We dedicate precious resources to raising beef, so I hate to see it wasted at the end gate. With solutions like increasing the shelf life of beef, creating more innovative products that don’t require refrigeration and educating the public on beef cut selection, preparation, cook-once-dine-twice recipes and facts on how long leftovers last in the refrigerator and freezer, maybe we can make some headway on this issue.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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