Remarks by Minister Counselor John Norris on Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste at FAO

Minister Counselor John Norris speaks at FAO about Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste (© FAO)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate today.

First, I want to commend the G20 for its leadership and the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Food Policy Research Institute for your willingness to take on this important challenge with today’s launch of the Technical Platform on Food Loss and Waste.

As noted in the Terms of Reference – I encourage you to build on existing systems and not duplicate existing work.

Viewing your role as a coordination mechanism will keep your focus on being a facilitator of knowledge and enable you to build and provide to the world a database of innovative practices and technologies.

If you can track, gather and disseminate information, continually promote the story – the need for our global society to take Food Loss and Waste seriously – and highlight successes when they occur you will play a key role in maintaining the momentum.

Continuing the momentum is critical.  I would draw your attention to lessons that have been learned in the push for energy efficiency because I think there are some very similar parallels.

In energy, we have seen that when you have an inexpensive commodity and failure for the market, or price to reflect many external costs in the production of that commodity – waste and inefficiency is likely to occur.  We started the energy efficiency push in the U.S. with a public appeal to conserve energy – 35 years ago I remember our President Jimmy Carter encouraging Americans to turn down our thermostats and put on a sweater to conserve energy.  Today we have incredible technology that tracks energy consumption and optimizes energy usage.  Energy efficiency is a tremendous growth industry.

The same success can occur with a combination of promoting public awareness and the development of modern practices and technology to meet the Food Loss and Waste challenge.

As you begin your efforts I encourage you to look for examples of “low hanging fruit.”  Simple, easy things we can do to cut food loss and waste, and promote those extensively to create awareness, show people how easy this can be, and use this to continue the momentum through examples of early success stories.

This effort has begun in the U.S.

In September U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the first-ever U.S. national food loss and waste reduction goal – a commitment to cut food waste in half in 15 years.

We recognize reducing Food Loss and Waste is fundamental to improving food security and conserving natural resources.

In the U.S. food waste represents the largest component of waste going into our municipal landfills – generating methane – making landfills our 3rd largest source of methane emissions.

Minister Counselor John Norris speaks at FAO about Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste  (© FAO)

This goal demonstrates the U.S. commitment, on a global level, to getting wholesome food to people who need it and protecting natural resources, cutting greenhouse gases and promoting innovative approaches for reducing Food Loss and Waste.

This will take an effort by all:  government, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, NGOs, communities, individual families and businesses.  Leadership by businesses – the private sector – is critical to this effort.

  • But one of the most important, though often overlooked, leaders is government itself.
  • Good governance can facilitate market development and public-sector investments in market infrastructures and new technologies.
  • Efficient, well-functioning markets will lay the foundation for food-loss prevention. More efficient production, processing, storage, transportation and distribution systems reduce the amount of food loss on the farm, increase farmer incomes, and improve food security.
  • Markets that are highly differentiated can deliver the largest benefits to producers and consumers.  Take potatoes for example, the highest quality potatoes in a field might go to the fresh market, a different quality to frozen, a different quality to canned, a different quality to powdered and a low quality to animal feed.  More market options can mean less waste – and higher incomes for farmers.
  • New innovative ways to connect farmers with markets, when variations in quality and quantity leave farmers with excess product, are helping to build flexibility into markets and increase market opportunities for products that might otherwise be discarded.
  • Good governance is also important in promoting food recovery, that is, the recovery of wholesome, otherwise wasted food for donation to food banks and soup kitchens to feed people in need.

For example, the United States provides enhanced tax deductions and liability protection to businesses to encourage donations of fit and wholesome food to qualified nonprofit organizations serving the poor and needy.

  • Good governance and public sector investment in research can also help stimulate the development of innovative new approaches and technologies for reducing food loss and waste.
  • Government investments in new approaches for extending shelf life (like a fruit and vegetable-base powder to inhibit spoilage of fresh-cut produce) or in new value-added products that use different qualities of agricultural products are helping to reduce food loss and waste not just in the United States, but around the world.

By providing cold chain management training the USDA’s Cochran Fellowship Program helped producers in Costa Rica reduce post-harvest loss by improving cold storage services for fresh and chilled products entering into international trade.  In addition to developing a manual of best practices, the USDA Cochran Fellows also designed a new refrigerated warehouse that will have a 560- ton capacity, utilize green technology, and have zero emissions.
And USAID has developed a coin-operated milk dispenser project to enable Kenyans without refrigerators to purchase milk at an affordable price and in the quantity they need, thus reducing waste.

  • A final aspect of good governance I will touch on today is public education.  We are very focused on raising awareness in the United States about impacts of high levels of food loss and waste and about ways to reduce it.
  • In 2013, USDA and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge – and have already been joined by over 4,000 businesses and organizations in the effort to reduce, recover and recycle food loss and waste.
  • Government efforts like the Food Waste Challenge and have helped to build the momentum for the long-term success of our national food waste reduction goal.
  • By setting achievable goals, the United States is making strides to help boost the economy and protect the health of American families and families around the world for the long-term.

We look forward to working with all of you on making this Platform a success.