Specialist Natalia Basso, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, explains during an exclusive interview with RIA Magazine the importance of awareness to reduce food footprint at different stages of the food chain.
“It is necessary to reduce food wastage as one of the first steps to fight hunger while helping to preserve natural resources”………………………………………………………………………………
The Nutrition and Food Education team of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries works to reduce food footprint, the main indicator of the environmental impact of losses and food waste in the world.
“To reduce food losses during industrial production is a great opportunity for companies, not only because of the reduction of total production costs and final disposal costs, but also due to its environmental impact”, says Natalia Basso, who works at the Agrifood Department.The team makes a strong emphasis on food education in nutrition, food safety, labeling of packaged foods and food law. Since 2013 they conduct workshops aimed at people working in soup kitchens to help them take advantage of each food without losing sight of their overall quality. “This initiative is very useful to communicate and share information as long as everyone participates, from food producers, supermarkets, consumers, restaurants, bars, hotels, education centers to social clubs, to name some”, she comments.
What is food footprint?
In the same way carbon and water footprints are used to assess and compare the environmental impacts of agricultural products, food footprint is proposed as a first indicator to account the environmental impact of food losses and waste. For example, water and energy are used throughout the food chain, gases are generated and fertilizers are used. Thus, as the food moves forward in the food chain, the footprint increases. It is necessary to reduce food wastage as one of the first steps to fight hunger while helping to preserve natural resources.
How did you started to work on food footprint?
Since 2012 we have been jointly working with the Argentine Network of Food Banks, and in 2013 the Representation of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Argentina joined. Gradually we came across their work on Food Banks, struggling to reduce hunger and malnutrition in the country. Their main objective is to recover, through donations, food fit for human consumption without commercial value for manufacturers. Subsequently, they sort and redistribute them to a network of soup kitchens assisting people in need. In this context, our work is channeled through a training program for people working in the kitchens of those community soup kitchens associated to NGOs. The aim is to provide useful information and improve the performance of their duties, as they provide food for many people.
From this workshop experience in the soup kitchens we learnt that no food should be wasted since resources are limited. Therefore, during our meetings we included in the schedule a space where cooks explain their methods to make the most out of every meal without neglecting safety. This also enriches our work since we accumulate recipes and “home” ideas.
It is noteworthy that food losses not only occur at home but also at industrial level, for instance during the postharvest, processing, storage and transport stages. In some cases this may happen due to inefficiencies and defects at some stage in the chain, and in others cases it may be related to high quality standards. Fruits and vegetables are a concrete example: they are often “discriminated” because of their shape, size, maturity or color, when in fact its nutritional value remains unchanged.
How was the work with FAO articulated?
From the collaboration with the FAO Representation in Argentina we me the Save Food! Initiative and the PIENSA.ALIMENTATE.AHORRA Reduce your food footprint campaign. Both work at an international level, were founded and accompanied by several relevant agencies such as FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Zero Hunger Challenge and other private agencies and organizations, such as the Messe Düsseldorf organization. Also, we came across the study conducted for the Save Food! International Congress on Interpack 2011, Düsseldorf (Germany) which shows alarming figures worldwide.
So, we began to gather information on the subject as we wanted to know the amount of losses and waste in Argentina, but we do not find much information. Halfway through the year, along with FAO Argentina we decided to start with the spread of this problem, the initiative and the campaign to invite all those interested to join with concrete actions.
Which were those actions?
We set up a framework for the implementation of PIENSA.ALIMENTATE.AHORRA and began to disseminate it. We wanted to briefly show through this document which are the possible actions that can be taken to reduce food losses and waste.The campaign itself is based on raising awareness on the global problem of food waste and the negative effects not only to humans and the environment, but also for the economy. On the other hand, it intends to convey that it is possible to combat this problem through small changes in our daily habits. Thus, we had the opportunity to bring this concern to food companies, universities and even students.
In turn Silvina Ferreyra, communication and knowledge management coordinator at FAO Argentina, attended the 9th National Conference of the Argentine Network of Food Banks. The slogan was “Saving foods that are discarded: Consumption and conscious productions as a mean for sustainable societies”. During the Conference she had the opportunity to present the framework document and invite other players to join.
Which is the role of the Agrifood Department on this matter?
We intend to generate better business management skills, product differentiation, social inclusion and sustainability of resources, and to contribute to the positioning of Argentine food products. With this mission, to work on reducing food losses during industrial production is a great opportunity for businesses, not only by the consequent decline in total production costs (raw materials, equipment, energy and water used in process, labor, etc..), but also in the costs of disposal and especially the environmental impact. To summarize, we aim at generating a more efficient production and national food consumption.
So far our contribution was to gather information and assist the FAO in spreading concrete ideas to reduce food footprints.
Can you provide some examples of those ideas?
First, we designed a technical data sheet for consumers detailing the differences between “loss” and “waste”, and we included tips to reduce waste in households.
Then, we published a story on the Argentine Food Magazine explaining the information obtained from the abovementioned document, as well as the study on Urban Solid Waste by the Institute for Sanitary Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Buenos Aires.
Also on October 16th – the World Food Day – we organized a small event to share a space for reflection on this matter with the staff of the Ministry. Silvina Ferreryra gave the first lecture, and explained the report, some figures and the beginnings of the aforementioned Initiative and campaign. Next, the Director of the Argentine Network of Food Banks, Victoria Ancarola, shared her work experience in an NGO that has much to do with this issue since its objective is to retrieve food. Finally, we emphasized the need to engage in this effort through our own consumption habits through various tips to reduce waste at home.
We understand that this initiative is very useful to communicate and share information as long as every actor collaborated: food producers, supermarkets, consumers, restaurants, bars, hotels, houses of study and social clubs, to name some.
Which actions can be addressed to reduce food footprint?
We can address actions on different levels along the entire food chain. Broadly, the proposal includes implementing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Manufacturing Practices, to sensitize staff about the losses and food waste, to align the activities of food services to the purpose of the initiative and to review production lines in order to identify critical points to implement strategies or make modifications aimed at reducing food footprint. We also seek to consider a possible destination for the use of raw materials that do not meet quality criteria, to include education on this subject on Social Responsibility Programmes and, finally, to generate actions that promote the reduction of food footprint in all areas that are relevant for loss and food waste in a coherent and sustainable way over time.
Which do you relieve will be the results in the near future?
It would be ideal for this proposal to reach the mass media to raise awareness and help people seek different solutions. It is important to understand that it is not about “blaming someone” – something that often happens – but to help us feel responsible and introduce small daily actions.
Changes aimed at reducing waste or losses depend on the role that each has to the problem, but the effort must be proportional. That is to say, it is certainly not the same for a food producer, for a retail store or for a housewife. However, every little effort matters.
On the other hand, currently data related to losses and waste in our country are very scarce and we do not have ongoing projects related to this subject. Still, we are already planning to work on this line in 2014.
Further information: Natalia Basso.
Licensed Dietitian (University of Buenos Aires). Member of the Nutrition and Food Education Team of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.