Missing Food, Missing Data? A Critical Review of Global Food Losses and Food Waste Data

Li Xue, Gang Liu*, Julian Parfitt, Xiaojie Liu, Erica van Herpen, Åsa Stenmarck, Clementine O'Connor, Karin Östergren, Shengkui Cheng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

425 Citations (Scopus)


Food losses and food waste (FLW) have become a global concern in recent years and emerge as a priority in the global and national political agenda (e.g., with Target 12.3 in the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals). A good understanding of the availability and quality of global FLW data is a prerequisite for tracking progress on reduction targets, analyzing environmental impacts, and exploring mitigation strategies for FLW. There has been a growing body of literature on FLW quantification in the past years; however, significant challenges remain, such as data inconsistency and a narrow temporal, geographical, and food supply chain coverage. In this paper, we examined 202 publications which reported FLW data for 84 countries and 52 individual years from 1933 to 2014. We found that most existing publications are conducted for a few industrialized countries (e.g., the United Kingdom and the United States), and over half of them are based only on secondary data, which signals high uncertainties in the existing global FLW database. Despite these uncertainties, existing data indicate that per-capita food waste in the household increases with an increase of per-capita GDP. We believe that more consistent, in-depth, and primary-data-based studies, especially for emerging economies, are badly needed to better inform relevant policy on FLW reduction and environmental impacts mitigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6618-6633
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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