The BETA TC will develop new methodologies to reduce food waste in the primary sector.

FOLOU, a new European project coordinated by BETA TC

Every year a large amount of food is lost or wasted along the entire food value chain, from primary production to final consumption, the most visible and certainly the most alarming part. The most recent estimations made by entities such as the World Wildlife Foundation indicate that, in the primary sector alone, the global figure for food wastage may reach 1.2 billion tons. According to FAO data, one third of the food produced for human consumption in the world may be wasted. In Catalonia, according to data from the Catalan Waste Agency (ARC) of the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda, food waste of domestic and commercial origin can reach 262,000 tons, equivalent to 35 kg per person per year.

Faced with this reality, researchers at the BETA technological center of the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) are working on the development of tools and mechanisms to help monitor and control food waste in the primary production stage. This stage mainly includes agricultural activities, aquaculture, fisheries and other similar processes, where many food losses occur in the field and after harvest (i.e. in the handling and storage process). It is usually a difficult stage to monitor, since with current technical resources it is time-consuming or has a very high economic cost.

“Food waste has a negative impact on society at many levels, causing food insecurity and generating environmental impacts of all kinds,” explains Joan Colón, head of the Accounting and Sustainability Optimization Area at CT BETA. These impacts can include unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, waste of water resources and degradation of some ecosystems and their biodiversity. The sum of all these factors ultimately translates into significant economic losses and social harm. To raise awareness of this phenomenon, September 29 is International Food Waste and Loss Awareness Day.

FOLOU, a European project coordinated by BETA TC

In order to deepen the search for new mechanisms to combat food waste in the primary sector, the European project FOLOU, coordinated by the BETA technological center and financed by the Horizon Europe program, will start in the coming months. The main objective of FOLOU is to lay the foundation to create new tools and methodologies that will allow to be aware of the magnitude and impact of food losses in the primary production stage. Colón, principal investigator of the FOLOU project, explains that “in addition to harmonizing the method of calculation between different European realities, it will also make it possible to have better national and European records on food wastage”.

FOLOU will have a very important technological aspect, since, according to Colón, “we hope to validate the use of six technologies applied in an innovative way to the control of food waste, such as image recognition systems or artificial intelligence”. As an outstanding result, FOLOU will create a new sustainability assessment tool that will make it possible to quantify in an efficient, standardized and reliable way the environmental, economic and social impacts derived from food waste, in order to identify which stages of the value chain should be acted upon.

Today there is still an urgent need to find clear methods to calculate the magnitude of losses caused by food waste and to be able to implement truly efficient measures to reduce it. The European Commission recently established a common method and minimum quality requirements to reduce the amount of food waste at national level, but this is still a very general approach that does not include all the realities of the primary sector. In many cases, this is due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of their reality.

The FOLOU project will work to ensure the adoption of the project results by all key stakeholders: primary producers, retailers, consumers, policy makers and researchers. FOLOU will have an overall budget of almost 7 million euros for an international consortium made up of 16 partners, in which the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda and ARC will also be prominently present. In Catalonia, it will also include the participation of the Espigoladors Foundation.