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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

Can We Agree on a Food Loss and Waste Definition? An Assessment of Definitional Elements for a Globally Applicable Framework


Recent strategies for achieving sustainable food systems have called for reducing food loss and waste (FLW), most notably Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 12.3. This review aims to compare FLW definitions that are relevant to SDG target 12.3 and opportunities to harmonize the FLW definition. Using the FAO FLW database, we summarize FLW data source availability and distribution across country income groups. Across 21,786 data points from 2004 to 2021, over one-third (64.5%) are sourced from the African Postharvest Loss Information System, which focuses on cereal grains in sub-Saharan Africa. We then compare FLW definitions from major data sources to a common FLW definition put forth by FAO in 2014, and the Food Loss Index and Food Waste Index sub-indicators for SDG target 12.3. We find that the indices do not align with other definitions with regard to utilization and edibility criteria. After assessing each definitional element, we conclude that the FAO 2014 FLW definitional framework is comprehensive and globally applicable; summarized as, a reduction in the quantity or quality of the edible portion of food intended for human consumption when food is redirected to non-food uses or when there is a decrease in the nutritional valuefood safety, or other quality aspect from the time food is ready for harvest or slaughter to consumption.

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