Featured News Cutting food waste threat to animals

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Mon, 24 Oct 2016

Cutting food waste threat to animals

There are warnings that moves to reduce extraordinary levels of food waste across the world could have unintended consequences – threatening the future of many animals that have come to rely on food waste for their survival.

James Cook University’s Professor Iain Gordon says food security is high on government agendas, with a push to increase the availability of food by up to 70% in the next 30 years, partly by reducing food wastage.

Professor Gordon said the study highlighted the potential impact on species that have become reliant on food waste.

“These species may be seen currently as pests, but the consequences of reducing food waste could not only affect them directly, but might also have effects across food webs and impact on animal species of conservation importance,” he said.

Professor Gordon said it’s estimated 30–50% of the four billion tonnes of food produced each year is wasted and in some developed countries up to half of the food produced is thrown away by supermarkets and households.

But he said many species had become reliant on this waste for their survival.

“For instance, a number of species of birds use the grain spilled in the harvest during stopovers along their migration routes. In Europe legislation in the wake of bovine spongiform encephalitis (also known as mad cow disease) forced farmers to bury or burn dead animals that would normally be left lying in fields. This led to a reduction in birds that depend on carrion to the degree that a number of species are now at risk of extinction.”

He said landfills are important food sources for a large number of bird species and many could not go back to their previous habits because their old sources of food are no longer available.

Despite this, Professor Gordon said it’s likely the waste reduction approach to food security will eventually benefit many more species than it harms.

“It’s thought that meeting the food needs of nine billion people in the future will require over 120 million hectares of land being converted to cropland in developing countries. Some species will benefit with less land being converted to agriculture, other species are likely to benefit directly and indirectly through, for example, a reduction in predators and toxins.”

He said conservation scientists need to find out which species rely on food waste and what will be the impact of reducing waste.

“It might be that we have to provide a means of support which could include continuing to provide food waste as a conservation measure and/or weaning the species onto alternative food sources. It’s not a situation that we’ve faced before as food waste has become a major contributor to animal supplementation only in recent years.”

Original article available upon request.


Professor Iain Gordon
P: (07) 4781 6514
E: dvctes@jcu.edu.au