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USDA - United States Department of Agriculture

11/30/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/30/2021 12:09

ERS Research to Estimate Food Loss: An Interview with Economist Linda Kantor

Posted by Jean Buzby, USDA Food Loss and Waste Liaison in Food and NutritionHealth and Safety

Nov 30, 2021

Buzby: What should people know about USDA's Economic Research Service?

Kantor: USDA's Economic Research Service is the Department's principal social science research agency and one of 13 principal federal statistical agencies. Our mission is to anticipate trends and emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America and to conduct high-quality, objective economic research to inform and enhance public and private decision-making.

Buzby: ERS is known for estimating food loss at the retail and consumer levels. Could you tell us more about these estimates?

Kantor: ERS defines "food loss" as the amount of edible food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason. ERS's Loss-Adjusted Food Availability (LAFA) data series adjusts national-level estimates of food availability (i.e., the annual total and per capita amount of raw and semi-processed commodities that move through marketing channels for domestic consumption) for food spoilage, plate waste, and other losses to more closely approximate actual per capita intake. The LAFA Data Series provides the loss-adjusted per capita amount of food, calories, and Food Pattern Equivalents (aka "servings") for about 200 commodities, like beef, milk, canned tomatoes and vegetable oil. We also use the LAFA series to estimate the quantity of food loss at the retail and consumer levels for each commodity.

Buzby: What is your long-term goal for these estimates?

Kantor: ERS continues to examine how these estimates can be refined and made more timely to help policymakers make informed decisions.

Buzby: Does ERS do other research on food loss?

Kantor: While a considerable amount of the academic literature has been devoted to understanding how food loss occurs at the consumer and retail levels, relatively little is known about how much, or why, food loss occurs earlier in the supply chain. ERS published a report (PDF, 3.9 MB) in 2020 that provided an economic framework for analyzing drivers of on-farm and pre-retail food loss. It collected and synthesized information about fruit and vegetable food loss from the farm through the pre-retail supply chain using a case study approach.

Buzby: Thank you for this information.

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