Farmers Could Make a Difference in Food Waste Reduction Campaigns

Owen RobertsFarmers could play a big role in the movement to turn food waste from a habit into a villain.

In some circles, food waste is now being called the number one issue in the food business. It’s described as a major stumbling block in the drive to feed the world. According to this line of thinking, we likely can’t bring enough new food into production to meet future needs, so let’s more efficiently use what we have, and stop wasting it.

The equivalent of 40 per cent of everything Canadian farmers produce is estimated as ending up as waste

Farmers have a role here. They’re the first link in the so-called value chain and stand to lose money as a result of food waste.

To me, it’s eye opening, if not mind boggling, to realize that the equivalent of 40 per cent of everything Canadian farmers produce is estimated as ending up as waste, according to the Value Chain Management Centre in Oakville, Ont.

The centre is trying to make the issue more public. Its second annual food waste forum takes place November 12, to identify where in the value chain food waste occurs, and what can be done about it.

The speakers are mainly from food corporations and industry, with some hospitality leaders and academics included. The theme is cut waste, grow profit, which could likewise be a theme for a farming conference (

I’m not familiar enough with the psychology of public health campaigns to know if scolding and guilt is effective for getting people to change habits. I suspect it isn’t. For example, being told at home to clean your plate because people elsewhere are starving hasn’t seemed to cut food waste over the years. Stats haven’t been kept for about food waste for long, but I sense things are getting worse, not better.

So how about involving farmers, then? Although they aren’t a major part of the upcoming forum, I’d say they could be among the movement’s most effective advocates. 

The public trusts farmers and feels compassion for them. It’s one thing for a business leader to say waste less because it cuts into corporate profits. But it’s another for a farmer to say waste less because we need to feed the world, and you’re throwing away nearly half of the food I grew for you with my own two hands. That has some emotional cache.

Besides, nothing else, including common sense (i.e. waste less, save money), seems to be working. This is the time to try something new.  And farmers can always use another opportunity to show the public they care.


Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy


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