Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Jean Buzby, Chief of the Diet, Safety, and Health Economics Branch in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Economics Division, who was one of the speakers at the 2015 Food Tank Summit in partnership with The George Washington University.
Food Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?
Jean Buzby (JB): The USDA’s ERS estimates that in the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was US$161.6 billion using retail prices. For the first time, ERS estimated the calories associated with food loss: 141 trillion in 2010, or 1,249 calories per capita per day.
FT: How are you contributing to building a better food system?
JB: I am leading the effort in estimating the amount, value, and calories of food loss in the U.S. at the retail and consumer levels. This information will hopefully be useful to both private and public sector decision-makers.
FT: What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization’s goals?
JB: As far as our goal to estimate the amount and value of food loss in the U.S., the biggest challenge is that there is a real lack of data on the amount of food loss and waste nationwide for the 215 individual commodities in ERS’s Loss Adjusted Food Availability data series. In particular, there is a lack of data on food loss at the farm level. As part of this challenge, there are real challenges in collecting data (i.e., how to do it most effectively).
FT: Who is your food hero and why?
JB: I don’t know if I have a hero, but there is a colleague whose work I admire and whose opinions I value—Elise Golan has spearheaded the effort to develop and implement the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. On June 4, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, calling on entities across the food chain – farms, agricultural processors, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, universities, schools, and local governments – to join efforts to:
- Reduce food waste by improving product development, storage, shopping/ordering, marketing, labeling, and cooking methods.
- Recover food waste by connecting potential food donors to hunger relief organizations like food banks and pantries.
- Recycle food waste to feed animals or to create compost, bioenergy and natural fertilizers.
ERS is a participant on the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, and I am happy to be a part of that project.
FT: In 140 characters or fewer, what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system?
JB: The Economic Research Service is in the business of economic research and data and our data helps quantify the amount, value, and associated calories of food loss in the United States. We hope this provides some of the needed information to individuals and policy makers wishing to address this issue and find solutions.