A new study has found that a staggering 50 per cent of the world's food goes to waste.

The UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which carried out the study, says the waste is caused by poor storage, strict sell-by dates, bulk offers, and consumer fussiness.

The report says half of the food purchased in Europe and the US is thrown away after it is bought.

The Institution's engineering director Dr Colin Brown says the issue of food wastage is increasingly important as the planet's population heads towards a predicted 9.5 billion people.

"Somewhere between 30 and up to 50 per cent of all food is wasted between it being grown, being harvested, transported and eventually us eating it – in that whole process coming up to half of it doesn’t actually get eaten," he said.

He says a more efficient food production and distribution system would provide enough food for the planet's growing population.

"It's a very positive report from that point of view," he said.

"The population is only going to increase by another 3 billion or so people and if we could have 100 per cent efficiency in the way that we are creating food now, we would have enough food for all of those people.

"So it is positive in saying if we can solve these problems, then the world is large enough to feed these people."

He says the wastage is "an economic as much as an engineering issue."

"There are some engineering things we can do straight away. If you have a little allotment yourself and you grow crops, everything tends to crop at the same time. You get a glut of stuff and you wonder what on earth to do with it all. Commercial farmers are no different in that everything tends to come to ripeness at the same time. And so a lot of the waste comes from the fact that prices drop or it is easier for them to leave things in the field."

He says that means much of the world's food never even reaches a delivery truck, let along somebody’s stomach.

"In developing countries part of the issue is that the infrastructure isn't there," he said.

"The railways aren't there, the chilling equipment to dry this stuff [isn't there], a lot of stuff goes rotten because it is hot and wet.

"So you’ve got to look at the way that we've got the engineering in place to capture this food. We do have techniques for canning food and we have techniques for preserving food. It would mean a lot of it would not get wasted in the way that it does now."

The report says the issue of water is what Dr Brown calls a "pinch point".

"We already use twice as much water for our agriculture as we use for all of our other human uses and so if we carry on using more in this way, we are going to run out of what is essentially drinking water," he said.

"You can't put a lot of salt water onto crops. It needs to be relatively good, pure water, and it is hugely wasteful. And unfortunately one of the realities is that the more meat that we eat, and meat is becoming more popular around the world as a food, the more water we have to put on for the same number of people.

"If you’ve got a real pinch on water, the last thing you want to do is try to raise cattle using water."

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