Irvine, Calif., July 24, 2023 – Reducing waste is one way to fight hunger around the world, but tighter controls on food loss and waste may not lead to better environmental outcomes, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Colorado Boulder say.
In a recently published paper Natural food, scientists emphasize that preventing food spoilage can increase the amount of products on the market, leading to lower costs. Cheaper food encourages people to buy and eat more, offsetting the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as more goods reach the table.
“We can say that because the efficiency of the food system is improved, the price of grains is reduced; Now you can eat the same amount more often,” said lead author Margaret Hegwood. candidate at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at CU Boulder. “Consumers are responding to these lower prices by buying more than before, offsetting some of the benefits of reducing food loss and waste.”
Co-author Steven Davis, UCI Professor of Earth System Science, said, “Scientists and advocates are promoting the elimination of food loss and food waste as a way to reduce the negative environmental impacts of food production. This reasoning is well-founded: supply chain losses and waste account for a quarter of the global food system’s greenhouse gas emissions and 6 percent of total emissions worldwide.
But Davis said he and his fellow researchers found a “rebound effect” in their modeling, whereby improvements in efficiency lead to lower prices and increased consumption. They suggest that this result offsets 71 percent of the benefits of cutting food loss and waste.
“Our model basically formalized Econ 101: reducing food loss and waste shifts the supply and demand curves, respectively. “We look at how sensitive supply and demand are to prices — which we get from previous research — and then we determine how much food prices and consumption change,” said Matt Burgess, assistant professor at the CU Boulder Institute.
“There is a tension between the two goals of eliminating food waste and increasing food security,” Davis said. “Improving supply chain efficiency and thereby reducing food costs will help make food more affordable in underserved countries. But, especially in such places, we may need to adjust our expectations of the environmental benefits of avoiding waste and loss.
The project was funded by the US Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.
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