Iowa State professor participates in Vatican food waste conference

By Carl Bern
Special to The Witness

AMES — The Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) hosted an international conference at the Vatican Nov. 11-12 aimed at reducing food loss and food waste worldwide. Dr. Dirk Maier, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University in Ames, was one of more than 50 scientists, engineers, economists, corporate leaders and United Nations officials from 24 countries brought together to develop a plan to cut world food waste and loss in half by 2030. Fellow Iowan, Dr. Kenneth Quinn, retired president of the World Food Prize, was also a participant.

In a section about the conference on the PAS website, the conference organizers wrote:

“In his 2015 encyclical ‘Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home,’ Pope Francis calls for changes to “the trajectory and functioning of the world economy” as the current economic model is leading to ‘the destruction of the environment due to apathy, the reckless pursuit of profit, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness.’  He explains that the pursuit of this economic model has resulted in a ‘throwaway culture’ in which unwanted items and unwanted people such as the elderly, the poor, and the disabled — are discarded as waste and continue to ‘hurt and mistreat our home.’”

One of the ways that this “throwaway culture” manifests itself is in food waste. According to statistics compiled through studies by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted annually.

In Iowa terms, according to Maier, “The amount of food lost and wasted (each year) is … the equivalent of wasting 15 years of Iowa’s corn and soybean harvest each and every year, plus the seed, fertilizer, water, soil, money and labor involved in producing it.”

According to the PAS website, “the key objectives of this conference on Food Loss and Waste (FLW) were to: (1) share the latest scientific evidence on how to reduce food loss and waste and thereby contribute to global food security; and (2) provide recommendations for expanded global and national action by citizens, corporations, governments, and international organizations, and (3) broaden the alliance of actors for more significant impact.”

The PAS website further asserts that: “Many effective initiatives to reduce FLW are already in place around the world, but so far they do not add up to global impact and joint learning.”

The intended outcomes of the conference, according to the PAS website, were:

  1. A statement that calls for joint public policy and private sector action to set priorities at the global, regional, country, and corporate level; increase, align, and coordinate investments; and commit to measure and report on FLW metrics;
  2. A coordinated communication effort to raise the profile of the FLW issue in the media and mobilize civil society and the Churches and faith communities to embed FLW reduction efforts with their followers; and
  3. An action plan and key commitments to address existing knowledge gaps and promote practical solutions and investments for the realization of SDG target 12.3.

Dr. Maier reports that he is working on several aspects of global food security, but his specialty is reduction of postharvest losses of grain stored on smallholder farms, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Maier has worked in 11 African countries and has made five trips to Africa within the last year.

In April, Dr. Maier was named director of the newly-formed  Consortium for Innovation in Post Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, which is to be led by Iowa State University and funded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the Rockefeller Foundation and member institutions.

Bern is a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Ames who works with Dr. Maier.

 

Dr. Dirk Maier is shown above speaking at a food waste conference in November. The Iowa State University professor attended the event at the Vatican with 50 other guests from 24 nations. (Contributed photo)