Wasted food could be used to tackle food insecurity: Farmer

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Each year, about 40 per cent of the food grown by Nova Scotia Richard Melvin ends up going to waste.

“A lot of food that becomes waste in our system, and is in many cases returned to the field as compost, is edible products. It is healthy and fresh,” said Melvin.

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Most of it is perfectly fine — it just doesn’t meet the specifications for Canadian food grade standards, perhaps because of its size, colour or shape. Much of the food Melvin grows that doesn’t make it into stores ends up back on the fields of Melvin Farms Ltd., the six-generation family-owned farm in the Annapolis Valley.

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“It is a major public policy issue,” he said.

In recent years, soaring food prices have impacted Canadians around the country, affecting not just how much food people are able to put on the table, but what food, too, and what quality of food will be covered by each paycheque.

“The health-care costs and the social costs that emanate from people being food-stressed weigh heavily on our health-care system and the associated costs of an unhealthy diet,” Melvin said.

Second Harvest, a Toronto charitable organization, released a report in 2019 showing that nearly 60 per cent of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted, which could be avoidable. The total financial value of food loss and waste is roughly $50 billion.

Vegetables and fruit make up 45 per cent of the total wasted food.

Food loss describes edible products that get damaged or destroyed between harvest and retail, while food waste refers to the food discarded at retail stores or by consumers.

“A lot of edible products left in the field … could be utilized by people that are food insecure,” Melvin said.

Food insecurity, which refers to the inability to acquire food of sufficient quantity or quality, has been a growing problem in Canada. In 2022, 18 per cent of Canadians experienced food insecurity compared to 16 per cent in the prior year, according to Statistics Canada.

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Food bank visits have also risen dramatically.

March 2023 marked the highest usage on record, when more than 1.9 million people visited a food bank somewhere in Canada, according to Food Banks Canada Hunger Count 2023 report. Food bank usage in March 2023 was 32 per cent higher than the same period in 2022 and more than 78 per cent higher than in 2019.

Children represent 33 per cent of food bank users while eight per cent are seniors.

Melvin sees all this food that goes to waste because it’s too small or too oddly shaped to be sold as a potential fix. It could be sold as off grade, not quite meeting the top-tier standard, but good enough to eat in terms of quality.

“When we do that, we could solve this waste stream. That could be utilized as healthy food,” Melvin said.

“The cost is going to be higher if we do not do this sort of thing. It is impacting our health and society.”

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