Is half the world's food actually thrown away?

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Out of date and unopened food in a dustbin
A survey from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers triggered today's reports on food waste Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

50 percent of food wasted!

Well, that's what many of the headlines said this morning. The Huffington Post for example reported "staggering new figures". But can it possibly be true? Is half of all food really thrown away? The answer is no - and there aren’t any staggering new figures.

The reports were triggered by a survey from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The 50 percent figure in their report came from a book published in 2000.

I think there's a more reliable estimate from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation two years ago (which is also quoted in the engineers). They estimated 30 percent of food produced was lost or wasted.

The FAO were talking about food lost at every stage in the production process - for instance, food damaged by harvesting, fish that had gone off because it wasn't refrigerated properly - even frozen French fries that had "snapped" in the back of a lorry on the way to the burger bar.

They weren't just talking about food that was thrown away deliberately.

So how much is thrown away? Well, the FAO reckons that in rich countries around 40 percent of wasted food is lost because of consumer factors - we buy too much and it goes off, it's forgotten in the back of the fridge. Or some supermarkets don't accept food that doesn't quite come up to the highest standards but is still tasty and edible.

If my maths are still trustworthy, that means about 12 percent of food produced is deliberately thrown away for one reason or another.

That's still a staggering amount, but it’s a lot less than the 50 percent in the headlines.

Mum-of-four Eleanor Mitchiner has been attempting to cut down the amount of food waste her family creates with the help of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign: