International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste – An urgent need to safeguard climate and food security

    29 September 2023

    Australia’s agricultural sector provides an estimated 75 million people, both at home and abroad, with safe, nutritious, high-quality foods. In addition to providing food, our sustainable and resilient farming sector, bolstered by ground-breaking agricultural innovations, is a major driver of economic growth for Australia. Concerningly, the impact of climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters on crop loss is increasingly a major threat to the future of our food security globally.

    “It is serendipitous that International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste lands on the same week as Australia’s first National Disaster Preparedness Summit,” said Matthew Cossey, Chief Executive Officer of CropLife Australia, the national peak industry organisation for the plant science sector.

    “Ensuring effective natural disaster responses and recovery resources are available to support the vital farming sector that bears the brunt of many of these shocks that destroy our crops is crucial.

    “Pests, weeds and diseases continue to be major threats to the production, profitability and sustainability of Australia’s farming sector, leading to food loss. This is only increasing with climate change and the rising incidence of natural disasters,” said Mr Cossey.

    “Weeds, insect pests and diseases can destroy a crop, either by eating it before it can be harvested, or by pathogen infection which renders the crop unpalatable or unsafe for eating. These pests don’t stop at the farm gate; they continue causing damage through transport and storage, all the way to consumers’ homes.

    “Australians are already highly sensitive to the true value of food as cost-of-living pressures rise, and even small fluctuations in food production and food losses cost lives globally,” said Mr Cossey.

    The plant science industry continues to invest billions of dollars in R&D to further assist farmers minimise crop losses. Herbicides, fungicides and insecticides continue to provide Australia and the world’s crops with vital protection against insects, diseases and weeds during production and harvest. In Australia alone, without farmers access and use of modern crop protection products, almost three-quarters of the value of the food produced would vanish, resulting in a range of fresh produce essentially disappearing from Australian shelves.

    Biotech crops help to prevent pre-harvest losses by protecting against threats such as plant diseases and pests like insects, which can cost farmers a devastating 60-80 per cent of their yield in some developing regions.

    Pest resistant GM crops have been shown to increase average yields by 22 per cent, and farmer profits by 68 per cent, which creates profound, life-changing opportunities for subsistence farmers to escape from poverty.

    Mr Cossey continued, “At the other end of the spectrum, nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year as 800 million people in the world go hungry. Food waste contributes to about eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and can cause as much damage to our planet as plastic waste.

    “Governments around the world including Australia are tackling the issue of food waste through the UN Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030. These efforts have a strong ally in the plant science industry. A great example is Arctic Apples. Developed using CSIRO technology by a Canadian company and now released in the US, these gene-edited apples essentially eliminate browning and are therefore less likely to be thrown away, significantly cutting food waste.

    “This is just the beginning. Governments, farmers and the entire food value chain must work together and support sustainable agricultural practices that utilise plant science innovations like pesticides and GM crops. By doing so, we can tackle food loss and waste and climate change, while ensuring a more secure future for our global food supply during these challenging times,” concluded Mr Cossey.

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