A lot of food is wasted around the world, and the United Nations says it needs better data to determine just how much.
Citing the environmental impact of food production, the U.N. says understanding the scope of food waste is crucial.
Despite the lack of data, the U.N. estimates in its report that 17%, or 931 million tons, of the food produced around the world went to waste in 2019.
“Improved measurement can lead to improved management,” Brian Roe, a food waste researcher at The Ohio State University who was not involved in the report, told the Associated Press.
The U.N. says once the scale of food waste is known, it will be easier to come up with potential solutions, such as turning waste into animal feed or fertilizer.
According to the U.N., food waste is not limited to developed countries, but is a growing problem in poorer countries where refrigeration might not always be available.
“For a long time, it was assumed that food waste in the home was a significant problem only in developed countries,” Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP, a charity that works with governments to reduce food waste, told Reuters.
Clementine O’Connor, of the U.N. Environment Program and co-author of the report, said many countries “haven’t yet quantified their food waste, so they don’t understand the scale of the problem.”
In the United States, one way to mitigate food waste could be to clarify the meaning of food labeling, such as “sell by,” “best by” and “enjoy by” dates, according to Chris Barrett, an agricultural economist at Cornell University.
He said some people might throw away food based on those dates even though the food may still be safe to eat.
“Food waste is a consequence of sensible decisions by people acting on the best information available,” he told AP.
The U.S. Agriculture Department estimates an American family of four wastes about $1,500 worth of food each year.