Opinion from global food and drink experts, Zenith Global

Food waste = Water waste

January 17th, 2013 | Posted by Ric Horobin in Environmental | Food | Water - (0 Comments)

Last week, the BBC covered a story about the amount of food that is wasted globally. Estimates are that around 30% – 50% of all food produced is wasted; this amounts to around two billion tonnes of food.

Now, that’s a lot of food, but the impact on global water resources was not widely reported. My earlier blog post about the export bans imposed by some Middle East countries gave some idea about the volume of water embedded “virtually” in products. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the organisation that undertook the study into levels of wastage, gives details of the impact this has on global water resources.

The total volume of water extracted around the world this year will be approximately 3,800 cubic kilometres , and about 70% of this is used for growing food. or 2,700 cubic kilometres. So, if between 30% and 50% of food is wasted, the most basic assessment would be that the same volume of water is wasted. 800 to 1350 cubic kilometres of water. That’s a staggeringly large volume. I can’t comprehend what that means in the usual colloquial measure of water volume – Olympic swimming pools (up to 540,000,000). It’s 182 time the volume of Loch Ness. And this doesn’t include water used in processing foods.

Now, clearly it’s much more complicated than this, because some foods require significantly more water than others, and there is no research on the type of food wasted, and some of that water would run off into the seas and oceans anyway, but that aside, the volume of water lost is huge.

What is interesting is that in most cases, the link to water is only mentioned briefly in the media. I think this will change.

Dr Ric Horobin

Water & Environment Director at Zenith International

I’d love to hear your comments and views. Follow me on twitter @riczenith.

Alternatively if you’d like to contact me directly regarding how we at Zenith International can help your business email me: rhorobin@zenithinternational.com.


Parts of the UK are now officially in a state of drought and the EA is warning that more regions will follow, with the situation being potentially worse than in 1976 (although I can’t really remember that…). I’ve been asked a few times recently whether this will impact the food manufacturing sector. So, what are the implications for industry? There are a series of steps water companies can take, depending on the seriousness of the situation.

Initially, water companies can apply for drought permits, which can allow normal abstraction restrictions to be relaxed to ensure continuity of supply – so environmental protection rules are relaxed in times of need.

Second come ordinary drought orders, which restrict use of water for certain activities specified in the Drought Direction 2011. This includes, for example, washing vehicles, using hosepipes and dust supression. In addition, the EA can restrict abstraction from rivers and groundwater where deemed necessary.

Finally, emergency drought orders can be enforced. These allows water companies to restrict water use for any use that they consider to be inappropriate. This is where they could legally stop businesses using water, but it is highly unlikely to happen, particularly for food and beverage manufacturers.

Of course, if you have your own supply, there may be practical limitations to what you can supply should groundwater or river levels fall considerably.

You can get more information on this from Defra here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/resources/drought/


July 29th, 2011 | Posted by Richard Hall in Food - (0 Comments)

Test tube burgers don’t exactly sound appetising, but recent scientific experiments into producing cultured or in vitro meat from stem cells do hold considerable promise.

A report in The Sunday Times of 26th June remarked that global meat demand is predicted to double by 2050, yet livestock farming is already responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Oxford University has estimated that man made meat would reduce emissions by 80-95%, using 35-60% less energy and requiring 98% less land.

Apparently man made fish fillets were developed ten years ago.  I wonder why we are not yet hooked.


June 1st, 2011 | Posted by Richard Hall in Food - (0 Comments)

The world wastes as much as one third of all food production.  We can regard this as official, because it comes from a new report commissioned by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Stop for a moment and think about it.  Millions are starving.  Yet we produce 50% more than we currently consume.  It’s just thrown away.

In Europe and North America, the average amount wasted is 105kg per person per year.  Apparently, much of this is fruit and vegetables and can be reduced by consumers not being slaves to ‘use by’ dates and by retailers redistributing ‘out of date’ stocks.

In sub-saharan Africa and South and East Asia, the average is a far smaller 8kg.  What’s primarily needed here is a stronger supply chain with better transport.

Opportunities not to be wasted.


May 5th, 2011 | Posted by Richard Hall in Food | Water - (0 Comments)

Which contains more water – bread, cheese, meat or pizza ?  Here’s another list to check.

Water content



Apples, oranges


Carrots, salad




Milk, fruit juice, regular cola


Bananas, potatoes








Rice, pasta


Casseroles, stews


Vodka, whisky








Bread, biscuits


Snacks, confectionery


Cereals (without milk)



Again, it’s all in “Hydration and health : a review” in the British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin of March 2010.


February 7th, 2011 | Posted by Richard Hall in Food - (0 Comments)


We all know how much good nutrition can contribute to better health, but I was fascinated by a new book that shows how important it was to the outcome of the Second World War.

It seems that all sides behaved even more fiercely over food supplies than we might wish to believe.

I had heard about the Atlantic blockade and the siege of Leningrad. I was also aware of efforts to provide American troops with Coca-Cola, but had not realised the US Army ran as many as 44 dedicated bottling plants. I had no idea that so many Greeks died from hunger or that Japan was so close to mass starvation at the time of the atomic bombings.

The full story takes 656 pages and can be found in The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food by Lizzie Collingham.


January 31st, 2011 | Posted by Richard Hall in Food - (0 Comments)

When Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck speaks, we should all listen.  I’ve often found his words the wisest of all on world food supplies and sustainability.

This time, talking to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he warns that higher food prices are here to stay, but he also offers solutions for the future.

One is “no food for fuel”, describing agricultural production dedicated to biofuel as madness.

A second is better use of existing production science – “With current techniques, including gene technology, one could feed up to 9.5 billion people,” he argues.

The third is safeguarding free and open markets without arbitrary trade bans.

All three make sense to me.


January 19th, 2011 | Posted by Richard Hall in Economic | Food - (0 Comments)

Average world food prices are now higher than during the crisis three years ago that sparked riots in numerous countries.

This chart from the Financial Times of 6th January, taking data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, is all too clear.

A dangerous rise? FAO food price index
Yet, this time, there is less cause for alarm.  Some of the highest increases have affected corn, fruit, meat, sugar and vegetable oil.  The two biggest staples of rice and wheat, on which much of the world depends, have had relatively good harvests.

Volatility, however, in weather and in price inflation remains a high risk for us all.