We undertook Australia's largest study of food loss across the horticultural value chain to quantify the amount of human-grade edible food lost throughout the production value chain.

The challenge

A global problem

In the Western world, even though significant amounts of food waste occurs during the consumer phase, supply chains are also contributors to food loss inefficiency. Conversely, in South America, South-East Asia and Africa waste predominantly occurs during the production, processing and distribution phases.

In total, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that around 1.3 billion tonnes - or one third of food - is lost across supply chains between the farm and fork. Horticultural products are known to be especially susceptible to damage and waste across the value chain. They are the most vulnerable type of food, when compared to grains, meat and seafood.

Though known to be significant, the extent of pre-retail fruit and vegetable losses across the value chain In Australia had never been examined before across the country's regions in detail.

Our response

Identifying losses creates opportunities

We undertook Australia's most comprehensive study of food loss that occurs across the horticultural value chain. Building on an existing food loss database, we undertook a survey of the national fruit and vegetable industries. Australia is the first in the world to map all pre-retail fruit and vegetable loss volume estimates across all its growing regions.

Food loss occurs across the food value chain

The CSIRO Australian food loss survey sought information on food losses from growers, packers and processors, and identified geographic regions which previously had not been sampled in food loss datasets. The collected survey responses accounted for a total of 13 fruits and 19 vegetables, out of the 59 crops produced commercially in Australia. Loss values in other crops were predicted based on peer-reviewed work to make up a "whole-of-Australia" regional food loss map.

Our study found that on a national level, Australia loses at least an estimate 18-22 percent of its fruit and vegetable biomass during the production and processing/packing stages. Losses of up to 626 kilotonnes occur during production, and losses during packing and processing result in up to 830 kilotonnes of food waste. These losses were found to be proportionally similar to those incurred in Europe.

This report provides the regional location of fruit and vegetable losses across all Australian states and territories. It also addresses losses on an industry basis.

We are working with some key regions to validate thus information, and this work is contributing to develop the National Food Waste Strategy.

The results

Improved logistics

The findings of this work can be used to inform the development of improved logistics, environmentally sustainable, and diversion strategies to minimise waste. We are working on developing regional value chain food hubs, where food losses can be diverted and transformed into other higher value food products and/or ingredients.

At present such ingredients generally are not manufactured in Australia, instead they are being increasingly imported. However, we have identified key national and international markets for these ingredients. The implementation of regional manufacturing hubs is not only of benefit to the regional economies, but also create new industries and more jobs, but it will have flow-on effects on other sectors.

Read the full mapping report.

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