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Government tells Britons to clean their plates

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Mary Ellen Botter/Dallas Morning News/MCT

(Read caption) A plate of fish and chips at Masters Super Fish in London.

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Britain's Cabinet Office released a sweeping report on the country's food policy, and determined that Britons are wasting too much food.

A third of the food bought for home consumption is wasted – 6.7 million tonnes. Most of this could have been eaten. Wasting food costs the average UK family £420 a year. Eliminating the unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions that this wasted food produces would be equivalent to taking one in five cars off UK roads. By using 60% of food thrown away by households, enough energy could be generated to provide power for all the homes in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

This waste is adding to the rise in food prices, the report said, in a world where food output must rise dramatically. The report notes that, according to a report by the World Bank, cereal production needs to increase by 50 percent and meat production 80 percent between 2000 and 2030 to meet global demand.

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The report noted that food waste contributes to greenhouse emissions, partly because rotting food in landfills generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The report also said that, because of problems with storage or distribution, as much as 40 percent of food harvested in the developing world is wasted before it reaches the plate.

In the foreword to the report, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that food waste is a global problem:

Recent food price rises are a powerful reminder that access to ever more affordable food cannot be taken for granted, and it is the family finances of the poorest in our society that are hit hardest when food prices increase. But the principal food security challenge for the UK is a global one. We cannot deal with higher food prices in the UK in isolation from higher prices around the world – attempting to pursue national food security in isolation from the global context is unlikely to be practicable, sustainable or financially rational.

Americans do not seem to be doing much better at conserving food than their counterparts across the Atlantic. Last month, The New York Times cited a 1997 study from the US Department of Agriculture that found that Americans discard an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, about a pound per day per person.