Pope Francis enters the war on food waste – but what can be done?

Newly elected Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, leads a a mass with cardinals at the Sistine Chapel. Credit: Reuters
Pope Francis is an outspoken advocate for the poor.
Credit: Reuters

Pope Francis added his voice to the growing campaign against food waste on World Environment Day, attacking a “culture of waste” that is “stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.”

The pontiff’s speech at the Vatican this week follows a U.N. food agency research finding that one-third of food produced in the world is lost or wasted. The body claims this has a devastating impact on global issues including poverty, pollution, gender inequality and climate change.

Awareness of the campaign has grown rapidly, with the European Parliament recently adopting a resolution to halve food waste in member states by 2025. There have already been successes, such as household waste in the U.K. dropping 8 percent over two years.

Activists welcomed the pope’s remarks. “It is important, and what he said was right,” said Tristram Stuart, founder of activist group Feeding the 5000, part of the EU FUSIONS initiative (Food Use of Social Innovation by Optimizing Waste Prevention Strategies). “Wasting imported food means the locals in food-insecure areas cannot buy it, so it is taken off their table.”

But the focus should be more on the suppliers, Stuart claimed. “Retailers shouldn’t deflect attention to the consumer; most food waste is in the supply chain. But consumers have the responsibility to ensure the businesses we buy from every day are held to account.”

One strategy is to audit the supply and release comprehensive figures on waste, with several European parliaments considering such proposals. Stuart is optimistic that agreements can be reached. “Compared to other campaigns like climate change, food waste is something that strikes people as instinctively wrong, from a taxi driver in Delhi to a CEO in New York, and there are relatively simple solutions.”

International supermarkets have been slow to commit to waste-cutting proposals, but Charlie Clutterbuck of the U.K. Food Ethics Council recommends people can influence them by buying closer to home. “Localism is a solution,” he told Metro. “If there is a network to link local initiatives it will stop food prices rising, make us less dependent and change the supply model.”


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