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Newsletter from Spoke 2 “Smart and circular food system and distribution” - May 2024

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Published: May 10, 2024
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Welcome to the inaugural issue of the Early Career Scientists newsletter from Spoke 2 at OnFoods.
In this space, we will discuss research, dissemination events, and global news relevant to the themes concerning our work. Let's start with a broad overview, focusing on the recent FAO report on conflicts, climate change, and food security, and the new Food Waste Index Report 2024. Then, we'll delve into some interesting digital solutions applied to food, and finally, we'll discuss European policies regarding agri-food. We also highlight upcoming seminar activities of Spoke 2 and two recent research outputs from Spoke 2.
Enjoy reading!
NEWS

Conflicts, climate change, and food access: FAO report on food security vulnerabilities

In March 2024, the FAO released its triennial report "Crop Prospects and Food Situation," providing a prospective analysis of the global food condition that reinforces the widely debated literature on the interdependence between food insecurity, conflicts, and climate change.

The report focuses on cereal production forecasts, market situations, and food security conditions, with particular attention to low-income and food-deficit countries.

At the beginning of 2024, the FAO identified 45 countries/territories, including 33 in Africa, nine in Asia, two in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one in Europe, in need of external food assistance.

  • Conflicts in the Middle East and Asian regions, as well as western and eastern Africa, are compromising food production and access, while in southern Africa, food insecurity is exacerbated by climate change and drought.
  • In North Africa, cereal production has been negatively impacted by adverse weather conditions and reduced agricultural resources due to political instability, increasing dependence on imports to cover domestic needs and exposing populations to international price fluctuations and supply chain disruptions.
  • In countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, conflicts have directly hindered agricultural activities and goods transportation, leading to severe food shortages.
  • In Venezuela and Haiti, economic and political instability has harmed agricultural production and market access, pushing large segments of the population into severe food insecurity.

Conflicts and adverse climatic conditions cause food insecurity, but in turn, food scarcity is among the causes of political instability and conflict: hunger, war, and adverse climatic conditions can act as self-perpetuating phenomena. Only through international cooperation efforts, supporting farmers with access to credit and agricultural resources, and strengthening social safety nets, can the effects of instability on food and nutritional security be mitigated.

NEWS

Food Waste Index Report 2024: time to measure food waste

Reducing food waste across the value chain, from production to consumption, is another major theme in the realm of food security and combating climate change.

It is well known that reducing waste would not only help decrease greenhouse gas emissions but also slow down the destruction of natural habitats caused by land conversion and pollution, while simultaneously improving food availability, combating hunger, and generating savings.

But to incentivize the necessary actions to reduce food waste, we must first understand the extent of the problem. Measuring food waste allows countries to grasp the magnitude of the issue and have a reference against which to measure their progress.

The 2021 Food Waste Index Report provided an important snapshot of food waste in the retail, restaurant, and household sectors globally.

UNEP made it clear that a significant portion of globally produced food is lost at every stage of the supply chain, from harvest to delivery to retailers, every year. Fourteen percent of produced food never reaches consumers. Seventeen percent of total food production is wasted: households alone waste 11%, the restaurant sector 5%, and the retail sector 2% (UNEP, 2021).

The 2024 Food Waste Index Report evolves from its predecessor in three main ways: firstly, it integrates data, offering more precise estimates both globally and nationally. Additionally, it enriches the methodology for measuring food waste by providing detailed guidelines for the retail, restaurant, and household sectors.

Finally, the report expands its focus from measuring food waste to seeking solutions to reduce it, highlighting the importance of public-private partnerships as effective approaches on a global scale.

UN Environment Programme - The Food Waste Index the essential action needed towards reducing #Foodwaste: Watch the video on YouTube

NEWS

Digital innovation and food

How to reduce waste and facilitate surplus redistribution: the case of the Bring the Food application

In recent years, we have seen an increase in digital applications aimed at reducing food waste, involving consumers, businesses, and communities in the fight against this global problem.

“Tekeya” in Egypt allows bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores, and bakeries to sell unsold fresh food at half price, offering buyers discounted food and increasing sales for businesses. “Too Good To Go” allows buyers to purchase and pick up surplus food at discounted prices from local restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, and food producers. “Olio”, a free app that allows you to share food with neighbors rather than waste it, facilitating the sharing of still edible food before the expiration date.

The list of similar digital projects around the world could go on and on.

But there is also a particularly successful case in Italy. It is Bring The Food, an application developed by Shair.Tech, an innovative startup with a social vocation founded in 2021 by two former researchers from the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento.

"Entities using BringTheFood recovered 4,120 tons of food products in 2023, which were delivered to people in need," commented Adolfo Villafiorita, CEO and co-founder of the app development company, on agrifood.tech. "Savings are not only measured in economic and social terms but also environmental terms, in terms of resources used throughout the food chain to produce, transport, and distribute food items. For example, producing a kilogram of meat typically generates between 30 to 90 kilograms of carbon dioxide. If the meat is not consumed, additional emissions are produced for landfill disposal activities. The only emissions related to circularity are those caused by vans moving to collect surpluses."


Monitoring the carbon footprint of food products within universities

Staying within the realm of digital products for social innovation and sustainability, University College London (UCL) has partnered with the Reewild app to allow students to monitor and reduce the carbon footprint associated with their food consumption. This initiative aligns with the university's sustainable food policy and its goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030. The app enables students to analyze the climate impact of food products and rewards them with discounts and free food to encourage more sustainable choices.

NEWS

Agri-food policies: a new path for the transition of the agri-food industrial ecosystem

In March, the European Commission published the "Transition Path for the Agri-Food Industrial Ecosystem," a strategic and programmatic document on the sustainable transition of the entire agri-food industrial ecosystem, with a specific focus on food transformation.

The document identifies challenges and opportunities to improve the competitiveness, sustainability, and resilience of the EU's agri-food system and encourages the adoption of the EU Code of Conduct on responsible food marketing and trade practices. It also introduces new policy proposals and programs to support the transition to a greener, more digital, and resilient agri-food ecosystem. The path outlined in the document was launched during the Open Food Conference held on 11th and 12th March.

SEMINAR

The next seminar of Spoke 2

On Wednesday, 15th May 2024, we will host Simone Fabrizzi from the Free University of Bolzano in a seminar introducing some concepts and techniques of machine learning that are central in the current scientific world.

The seminar will focus on Supervised Prevalence Estimation, which involves supervised machine learning techniques aimed at estimating the frequency or prevalence of each class in a set of unlabeled data.

Abstract: In many applications, such as in Epidemiology, one is not interested in knowing exactly the class (e.g., "has the symptom"/"does not have the symptom") of every single data point, but rather in estimating the prevalence of those classes in an aggregate manner. Quantification, known also as Supervised Prevalence Estimation or simply Learning to Quantify, is a rather niche but active field of the broader Machine Learning research whose aim is to produce such estimates for some unlabelled data, given a model trained on a labelled dataset instead. The most straightforward way to build a quantifier would be to train a standard classifier on the labelled set, classify all the data points in the unlabelled set and count the number of points pertaining to the different classes. This is known to be a suboptimal in most practical cases and therefore one has to rely on more sophisticated quantification algorithms. This seminar is meant to give a brief introduction to the problem of quantification; present some methods to estimate prevalences in data; and discuss some interesting applications.

PUBLICATIONS

Research Outputs

Some recent research works produced within Spoke 2

Development of Coated PLA Films Containing a Commercial Olive Leaf Extract for the Food Packaging Sector

Authors: Fiorentini C., Leni G., Díaz de Apodaca E., Fernández-de-Castro L., Rocchetti G., Cortimiglia C., Spigno G., Bassani A.
Journal: Antioxidants 2024, 13(5), 519
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox13050519
Lead Organization: Università Cattolica di Milano
Tasks Involved: 2.1.1, 2.2.1

A commercial olive leaf extract (OL), effective against Salmonella enterica, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus, was added to three different coating formulations (methylcellulose, MC; chitosan, CT; and alginate, ALG) to produce active polylactic acid (PLA) coated films. Evaluation of these coated PLA films revealed significant inhibition of S. aureus growth, particularly with the MC and CT formulations exhibiting the highest inhibition rates (99.7%). The coated films were then tested for food contact compatibility with three food simulants (A: 10% ethanol; B: 3% acetic acid; D2: olive oil), selected to assess their suitability for pre-cut hams and ready-to-eat vegetables in relation to overall migration. However, coated films with active functions exhibited migration values in simulants A and B above legal limits, while promising results were obtained for simulant D2, highlighting the need to deeply investigate these coatings’ impact on a real food system. Untargeted metabolomics revealed that the type of coating influenced the selective release of certain phenolic classes based on the food simulant tested. The Oxitest analysis of simulant D2 demonstrated that the MC and ALG-coated PLA.


Firm-level strategies for valorizing food waste: an empirical model

Authors: Valentini G., Garrone P., Scotti G.
Conference: Sustainable Food Chains - Parma (11-12/04/2024)
Lead organisation: Politecnico di Milano
Task involved: 2.3.1

Food waste (FW) is a pervasive global challenge, resulting in the loss of approximately 931 million tons of food annually worldwide (UNEP, 2021). To facilitate informed decision-making, businesses and stakeholders must understand the impact of their actions (Schaltegger et al., 2017). Using a broad survey and a screening of sustainability reports, this study seeks to establish the corporate-level relationships between FW performance measurement, FW reporting, and FW management practices in Italian food processing companies. This contributes to uncovering corporate-level strategies that positively influence the FW valorization process, guiding companies in promoting value creation for stakeholders and themselves.

This blog post is related to

Spoke 02

Smart and circular food system and distribution

To valorize food waste and smart and virtuous logistics

Lead organisation

Spoke leaderAntonio Moretti

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