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SINGAPORE (Aug 6): Some 342,000 tonnes of food loss occurs within Singapore each year – even before reaching retail and consumers – translating to an estimated $2.54 billion lost from farm to market.

According to a joint study unveiled today by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and Deloitte Singapore, this refers to food loss occurring along the upstream and midstream segments of the fresh food supply chain between producer and the market, from the production stage, to transport, processing, storage and distribution.

Importing 2 million tonnes of food each year, more than 144,000 tonnes is lost when the imported food lands in Singapore.

There is also a food loss of close to 75,000 tonnes during the processing and packaging of imported and locally produced food items, and food loss of more than 116,000 tonnes during distribution.

For the locally produced food within Singapore, more than 5,000 tonnes of food is lost at production, and close to 2,000 tonnes of food is lost during post-harvest handling and storage.

Vegetables and fruits account for close to half of the food loss incurred within Singapore, with some 167,000 tonnes lost each year.

Some of the key drivers of food loss identified in the study are poor disease and pest management, over importation of food items, fragmented cold chain management, and inadequate infrastructure.

In addition, food waste further downstream, comprising unconsumed and uncooked food discarded by consumers, amounted to some $342 million each year.

According to the study, close to one-third of respondents say they throw away more than 10% of food weekly.

The research showed that, at the consumer stage, more than 26,000 tonnes of unconsumed foods are thrown away from households annually due to improper storage, purchasing patterns and food handling habits.

Interestingly, the study also found that some 80% of respondents do not fully understand the difference between the various labels used on product packaging, such as “use-by”, “best-before” and “date of expiry”.

“In Singapore, food waste is largely monitored at the post-consumer or downstream stage, with little awareness of the losses occurring at the upstream and midstream stages,” says SEC chairman Isabella Huang-Loh. “When taken together – especially given the fact that Singapore imports more than 90% of its food needs – the bigger picture points to an urgent need to address food loss and food waste now.”

Huang-Loh says the study is aligned with and in support of the national “Year towards Zero Waste” agenda, and “30 by 30” goal to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030.

It included comprehensive interviews with more than 30 key stakeholders in the local food supply chain as well as a consumer survey on food storage behaviour, purchasing patterns and food handling habits covering more than 1,000 respondents.

“Food loss and food waste is preventable. This is unsustainable if we are to do nothing to curb and manage the issue. We want our study to create value and wider conversations among multiple stakeholders on food loss and food waste to throw up possible solutions,” says SEC executive director Jen Teo. “For example, local farmers may want to utilise more innovative ways like the application of technology to reduce food loss.”

SEC points to egg producers in Singapore as a role model with a high level of efficiency that other local farmers can emulate.

Through the use of measures such as automation, and the application of science and technology in disease management, SEC says egg farms in Singapore have been able to maximise output while ensuring minimal loss during production.

The study identified the eggs supply chain as the best example with the least amount of waste generated. Eggs accounted for only 1.6% of food loss incurred with Singapore each year, at about 5,500 tonnes.

“Similarly, a greater awareness of the impact of food waste on the environment could give rise to a growing pool of smart and efficient consumers who don’t discard food unnecessarily,” Teo adds.