A policy brief issued for the World Water Week in Stockholm reports that as much as half of all the food produced in the world is wasted.

The brief, authored by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Water Management Institute, shows that the current food crisis is less a crisis of production than a crisis of waste. "More than enough food is produced to feed a healthy global population. Distribution and access to food is a problem," the brief states. "We are providing food to take care of not only our necessary consumption but also our wasteful habits."

In poorer countries, a majority of uneaten food is lost before it has a chance to be consumed. Depending on the crop, an estimated 15 to 35 percent of food may be lost in the field. Another 10 to15 percent is discarded during processing, transport and storage. In richer countries, production is more efficient but waste is greater. In the United States, 30 percent of food is thrown away.

This waste is not only critical to the food crisis, rotting waste food in landfills is a significant source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas. And the water used to produce the food which is wasted is also lost.


The policy brief recommends adopting the concept of "virtual water" – a measurement of how much water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products

By explaining how nations such as the United States, Argentina and Australia in effect export billions of litres of water embedded in their food exports each year, while others like Japan, Egypt and Italy import billions, the virtual water concept opens the door to more productive water use. Virtual water can be treated like and alternative water source if it is taken into account when water intensive commodities are traded from places where water is plentiful to those where it is not – and not exported from places where water is scarce.