As part of our benchmarking study of food waste, we have been investigating country-level food waste data published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. We considered the latest data available, from 2009 to 2013 in the European Union’s 28 countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Seven food categories are used to measure food loss and waste in the respective countries and areas. Every year, the loss and waste of each food category remains a high percentage of the total quantity (FAO, 2017):
- cereals (30%),
- dairy products (20%),
- fish and seafood (35%),
- fruits and vegetables (45%),
- meat (20%),
- oilseeds and pulses (20%), and
- roots and tubers (45%).
In FAOSTAT database, though there is a different way to classify food groups, data collection is based on the above commodity groups. The food groups that are used for data analysis are Cereals (Excluding Beer), Starchy Roots, Pulses, Fruits (Excluding Wine), and Meat.
The comparison regions are European Union and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. However, the data is not available for all members of the GCC countries: the data for Bahrain and Qatar are unfortunately missing in FAOSTAT.
The most recent data which can be tracked is from 2013, the data collection chooses last five years from 2013 to observe the latest trends in food losses of target countries. The collected data and analysis are as ancillary materials for the future research.
Food – Data refer to the total amount of the commodity available as for human consumption during the reference period. Data include the commodity in question, as well as any commodity derived therefrom as a result of further processing. Food from maize, for example, comprises the amount of maize, maize meal, and any other products derived therefrom available for human consumption. Food from milk relates to the amounts of milk as such, as well as the fresh milk equivalent of dairy products (FAO, 1986).
Losses – Amount of the commodity in question lost through wastage (waste) during the year at all stages between the level at which production is recorded and the household, i.e. storage and transportation. Losses occurring before and during harvest are excluded. Waste from both edible and inedible parts of the commodity occurring in the household is also excluded. Quantities lost during the transformation of primary commodities into processed products are taken into account in the assessment of respective extraction/conversion rates. Distribution wastes tend to be considerable in countries with hot humid climate, difficult transportation and inadequate storage or processing facilities. This applies to the more perishable foodstuffs, and especially to those which have to be transported or stored for a long time in a tropical climate. Waste is often estimated as a fixed percentage of availability, the latter being defined as production plus imports plus stock withdrawals (FAO, 1986).
European Union contains 28 countries, usually is seen as a developed area. The data of food and losses from food balance sheet in FAOSTAT are relatively comprehensive. For instance, in 2009, the percentage of starchy roots loss (14%) is the highest among the selected food groups. However, the average loss of cereals per capita is higher than any other food group at 11.89 kg/person. Fruits and meat are two food groups that are in high demand apart from cereals, but the loss of meat is below than fruits.
||Food (1000 tonnes)
||Losses (1000 tonnes)
||Food Loss (%)
|Cereals – Excluding Beer
|Fruits – Excluding Wine
We can see the food loss by category in the last five years below:
From 2009 to 2013, the loss of cereals, fruits, pulses, and meat groups remains stable in the EU. The loss of meat is particularly in a stable index around 0%. The loss of starchy roots has decreased from 2009 to 2010, then remains around 11% till 2013.
However, in GCC countries, the data which can be used for analysis are much fewer than that of the EU28. Data sets that can be used for comparison (achievable data) are limited within two food groups which are cereals and fruits. There is no data recorded in of starchy roots in Oman. Kuwait and Oman both lack data for pulses. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait do not have any data for meat. In general, the food data of the United Arab Emirates are more complete than that of the rest of the GCC countries.
The average food loss and waste in cereals is consistently higher in the GCC at an average of 14% than it is in the EU28 with an average of 10%.
The food waste situation in fruits is slightly different. Whilst it was high for GCC countries in 2009 and 2010, they then reduced the food waste in fruits to EU28 average in 2011 and even lower in 2012 and 2013.
Between two groups (cereals and fruits) which can be compared among GCC countries and EU28, the average loss of fruits is equal between two groups around 7% approximately. GCC countries keeps a high percentage of loss in 2009 and 2010, but decreases later in 2012 and 2013. However, the loss of cereals has a huge difference between these two areas. GCC has more loss in cereals than EU28 at all the time but the loss stays steady. The reason of this difference can be seen below.
It can be observed that the United Arab Emirates has a high percentage of loss in cereals compared to the rest of the GCC countries. Though from 2011 to 2013, the loss decreased by about 10 percentage points; however, it is still much higher than the loss in the rest of the GCC countries for which we have data.
According to the comparable data between GCC and EU28, cereals are the main food group with high loss in the GCC countries, and the loss in fruit group is basically at the same level in these two areas. It is interesting because GCC countries have subtropical desert climate, it is believed that there will be more loss in perishable products.
From the data collection process, it is difficult to find official data for each GCC country especially those small countries with smaller populations. However, the United Arab Emirates can be considered a reference point since data on cereals, starchy roots, pulses, fruits, and meat are available.
FAO (2017) Food loss and waste facts. http://www.fao.org/resources/infographics/infographics-details/en/c/317265/ (Accessed at: 27, Nov, 2017).
FAO (1986) The ICS users’ manual: Interlinked Computer Storage and Processing System of Food and Agricultural Commodity Data. Rome.
Authored by Qiongyu Lu, Edited by Emel Aktas