02 Oct 2019

"The best thing to do is to prevent food waste from even happening."

The inaugural Food Matters Summit will bring together more than 100 top-level international speakers to lead a debate on the key issues for the global food and drink sector.

Since 2015 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been working to reduce food waste and conserve habitats threatened by agriculture. Pete Pearson is the Senior Director, Food Loss & Waste for WWF US and will be joining a stellar line-up of speakers at Food Matters Summit as they investigate how to sustainably feed 10 billion people.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be the Director of Food Waste US for WWF?

I spent ten years working for a grocery chain in the US as director of sustainability. I was responsible for 2000 stores in 37 states, and I helped to create a zero-waste programme for all of them.
It wasn't just about reducing waste but increasing sustainable thinking. Our ultimate goal needs to be reducing the compost, not creating food waste. We don’t grow food to compost it.
I moved to Washington, DC to start the WWF Food Waste program in 2015 and am now the lead for our food loss and waste program globally.

What is the connection between food waste and WWF?

If you think about it, the connection is simple. When population and affluency increases, there is an increase on food demand, thereby increasing the agricultural production pressure on our lands. As much as 70% of the biodiversity decline globally can be attributed to the expanding footprint of agriculture, meaning we’re losing habitats and biodiversity to agriculture.

How and where we produce food is one of the biggest threats to all biodiversity and all life on earth. This is because when you look at why we are losing habitats across the world, it's because of agriculture. The current fires in the Amazon, for example, are a direct result of increased deforestation for the expansion of agriculture and cattle farming.

Right now, the food equation is not balanced - we are cutting down rainforests and losing grasslands because agriculture is expanding. We need to make more food available without wasting what we grow, while still expanding agriculture to feed a growing population. Currently the equation does not make sense.

You've been in the job for some time now - how do you think attitudes to food waste have changed and are you seeing a difference in the amount of food we throw away?

There is growing momentum for sure. At WWF, we try to look at creating the most efficient food system possible, a future where we don't even create food waste – the best thing to do is to prevent food waste from even happening.

We've started programs to help reduce waste across the hospitality and retail industry by making them aware of how much they do generate and set targets to help them reduce what they generate. It is a big issue, and we're making progress.

What do you think the biggest barriers are to achieving sustainability?

We have to measure the food waste we generate. We cannot progress unless we have an accurate way of measuring waste from beginning to end of the food cycle. It is very difficult to understand waste, but once we do, we can redress it; however, we need to measure it first to make progress.

And finally, how important is to bring people together at events like Food Matters Summit to talk about the problem of food waste?

What it highlights is the importance of figuring out a sustainable food system. We cannot carry on wasting food with a global population of 7-8 billion if we want to have a planet in balance with nature. If we lose the pollinators, clean water and healthy soil, we will not be able to feed ourselves, so addressing waste is critical. We have to find a balance with nature while still feeding humans.

Register for Food Matters Summit on 19 and 20 November at ExCeL at www.foodmatters.co.uk/summit