The Efficient Food Project is providing data solutions to tackle food waste at source

The Efficient Food Project is led by IT Tralee in collaboration with UCD and funded under the EPA 2019 Sustainability Call.

Dr Jennifer Attard of the Circular Bioeconomy Research Group in Shannon ABC at IT Tralee

The Efficient Food Project is being led by IT Tralee in collaboration with UCD and is funded under the EPA 2019 Sustainability Call. Food  production is a resource intensive process. Conventional agriculture requires large land areas and significant volumes of water; two resources that are already at risk. Exploiting land leads to soil degradation, and an increase in overfishing has put several species at risk. 

It is estimated that one third of global food produced is lost or wasted somewhere along the food supply chain. While many people would be familiar with food waste at the retailer or consumer end, a significant amount of waste can also happen at the start of the food chain – with the primary producer. Addressing losses at this stage will mean that farmers can potentially lower production and improve profit margins. The Efficient Food Project will deliver the data that will stimulate this change.  

Food loss and food waste are not only environmental issues, but also social and public health issues. Food poverty is experienced by 9% of the Irish population, resulting not only in malnutrition, but also stress and therefore an increase in mental health and heart conditions. The extent and multi-dimensionality of food loss and food waste means that there is a strong drive for change. There are a number of initiatives trying to address food waste by diverting it from landfill to composting or anaerobic digestion, however prevention is always better than cure and thus the real solution to food waste is to make sure that it does not happen.  

The first step in this prevention, is to understand the problem. The Efficient Food Project is creating a first-of-its-kind, in-depth database of current food losses and waste from primary production. This includes everything up until the farm gate, or before the product leaves the farm. 

The research is being done by contacting experts for each food sector, determining the current level of national knowledge for that sector and collecting their data. This comprehensive database not only includes quantities of food losses and waste, but also the reasons behind each loss. Any data gaps are identified and the Efficient Food team will be recommending solutions to fill the gaps and therefore obtain a clear picture of the food waste situation for primary production in Ireland.  

In order to put this information to good use, the team will deliver recommendations that are most suited to help Ireland to reduce its food losses and waste from primary production. The recommendations will include both technology and policy solutions, to ensure that the most appropriate and novel techniques are considered and a real plan of action is available for policy makers to implement. The Efficient Food database, as well as the final recommendations for Ireland, are due to be complete by the end of March 2021 and will be publicly available. 

This research project is being led by Dr. Jennifer Attard from the Circular Bioeconomy Research Group in Shannon ABC at IT Tralee, in collaboration with Dr. Rosanna Kleemann and Dr. Tracey O'Connor at UCD. Shannon ABC is part of the Technology Gateway Network funded by Enterprise Ireland.