RandomEA comments on Open Thread #40 - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: RandomEA 12 July 2018 04:03:49PM 5 points [-]

Should EAs work on reducing food waste?

According to USDA statistics, a significant percent of food purchased by consumers goes uneaten (15% of chicken, 35% of turkey, 20% of beef, 29% of pork, and 23% of the edible portion of eggs). If consumers wasted less food, they would purchase less meat/eggs/dairy, which would lead to fewer animals suffering on factory farms.

One factor that could be driving food waste is confusing date labeling. For example, an egg container may have a 'Sell By' date meant to help retailers manage their inventory, but a consumer who sees the label and date some time after purchasing might throw the eggs away thinking they are no longer safe to eat. One possible solution is a federal labeling law that limits producers to listing the freshness date and the expiration date (and requires them to use specific easy to understand phrases when listing either). However, there are several reasons that working towards such a law may be a bad use of resources. First, legal change may be unnecessary as it appears the food industry may voluntarily adopt such a system. Second, it's unclear how much labeling reform reduces food waste (I was unable to find any studies in my brief search). Third, it may be that the primary benefits of reducing animal product consumption are the long term effects, in which case reductions in consumption driven by factors other than concern for animals may be much less impactful. Of course, there may also be other ways to reduce food waste (to which the first two concerns would not apply).

Comment author: saulius  (EA Profile) 17 July 2018 12:02:27AM *  1 point [-]

Interesting. It's strange that I've never heard anyone talking about decreasing animal suffering by decreasing food waste before. I wonder if anyone investigated such possibilities, I couldn’t find anything by googling. I happened to talk with an ACE researcher today and he didn’t know about any such research either. I think it's possible that there are some effective interventions in this area. Because there are many ways to reduce waste. For example:

  • Vacuum-packaging meat products. They can extended the life of some products by up to 9 days when compared to conventional packaging.
  • Getting rid of ‘buy one get one free’ promotions at groceries
  • Helping with redistribution of surplus food

It can be complicated though. For example, it's possible some people don’t by eggs because they look at the “Sell by” date and think that they will expire soon.

I wonder what could be next steps to increase the probability that someone looks into this. It could be added to http://effectivethesis.com/ but that would have a low probability of changing anything. EA Animal Welfare Fund may want to fund such research if there was someone to do it, but a more concrete topic would be needed.

Comment author: DavidNash 13 July 2018 09:10:54AM *  0 points [-]

I think there was some data that showed the majority of waste happened before a product got to a supermarket, and that switching to plant based/clean meat would be more efficient than cutting waste between shop and bin.

On page 37 of this report it says, for poultry, 11% of feed energy gets converted into human food. https://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/wri13_report_4c_wrr_online.pdf

If 15% of the 11% gets wasted that seems less of priority than the original 89% that is lost, although maybe it would be a more tractable and neglected area to work on.

Comment author: RandomEA 13 July 2018 02:00:28PM 1 point [-]

My comment was concerned with the impact of food waste on the number of animals suffering on factory farms. The report you cite seems to be discussing feed that is 'wasted' in the conversion process. But since this feed is likely to be mostly plants, improving the conversion ratio would probably not have a large effect on the number of animals on factory farms. (If anything, improving the conversion ratio might increase the number of factory farmed animals by reducing how much it costs to raise animals.)