Dr. Steven Lapidge – Fight Food Waste CRC – Ep 01

Dr. Steven Lapidge, CEO at Fight Food Waste CRC

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by Dr. Steven Lapidge from Fight Food Waste CRC, who we will be talking to about how their cooperative research centre aims to reduce supply chain losses through their research and development programs.



[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Hi there and welcome to let’s talk farm to fork, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain within the fresh produce sector.

Today on our show, I’m joined by Dr. Steven Lapidge from Fight Food Waste, who I’ll be talking to about how their cooperative research centre aims to reduce supply chain losses through their research and development programs.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Hi, Steven, how are you? Thanks for joining me on the podcast today.

[00:00:26] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Thanks Mitch. I look forward to the discussion.

[00:00:28] Mitchell Denton: Before we get into it. I just want to give you the opportunity to tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. And while you’re at it, please tell us a little something about yourself that most people don’t know.

[00:00:37] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah sure. So, I’ve got a interesting background, I guess, in both animal and environmental science. So for the first kind of 10 years, 10, 15 years, of my career, I followed the animal side and I’ve got a PhD in returning captive bred animals to the wild and studying whether reintroduction was an ethical conservation technique.

I then chased pest animals for 10 years, foxes and wild dogs and feral pigs. And so on but all of that really led to a passion for industry-based science. I kind of never wanted to pursue the, the theoretical science and I didn’t go on with the the postdocs after my PhD. I, I wanted to get in and start working with industry.

So, given where I am now in terms of working with food waste, it may seem a really weird match. But In one way, whether it’s managing feral pigs or trying to prevent food waste, it’s all about a sustainable future. And in particularly, a sustainable food future. I guess one thing that it might be interesting that most people don’t know is that I was always meant to take over the family electrical business, which had been going for something like 55 years when I did work experience as an electrician.

And it was on a 50 degree day in Adelaide. And I think I nearly passed out in a roof space and returned to the home that night and said, dad, “sell the business, I’m never taking it on”. And he did a couple of years later and I pursued a very different career.

[00:01:59] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Wow. I kind of went down a similar route myself and It definitely wasn’t for me either. So, uh, Similar stories, but on that note, let’s talk farm to fork.

So continuing on from you telling us what you do, it would seem you have quite a lengthy background in working in both agricultural and environmental cooperative research centres.

Would you mind telling us how you managed to find yourself in such a position within the industry and what the goal is behind your work?

[00:02:25] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah sure. So, I mentioned the re-introduction work before. My first job out of university was working for the Queensland Government as a fox and feral pig Zoologist. And I happened to meet the CEO of what was then the pest animal control CRC. And we got friendly, and when we’re talking and they advertise a position which I ended up winning, and that was to try and do a program to educate people about the potential for foxes, if they should establish in Tasmania. At the time there was some foxes had been taken over to Tasmania.

So that really got me into the CRC area. Then I was with that CRC and iterations thereof for another 10 years. So it takes us to about 2012. I was to move back to Canberra after having lived in Adelaide for the seven years before that. And I thought, well, maybe it’s time for a change family didn’t want to move to Canberra, and so I started working for the Primary Industries in South Australia. And part of that role was business development and really pushing on the sustainability of the food industry in South Australia at the time. And so, the idea was born to focus on a key area of sustainability for the food industry.

And that quickly emerged as food waste, because you don’t have to dig too deep to realise that while we’re a fantastic food producer in this country. We’re also, unfortunately, one of the worst food wasters in the world. We’re in the top four. And the writing was on the wall back in 2015 or so when we were starting this process to say, this is going to come back to haunt us one day and that’s something we need to start addressing now and that was just before the United Nations put out their 17 sustainable development goals. And one of them of course, is goal 12 target 12.3, which is to halve food waste globally by 2030. So that really led to where we are today in terms of the Fight Food Waste CRC.

[00:04:18] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Wow. So what do you think is the biggest challenge within the food supply chain right now? And how do you think we can overcome it?

[00:04:26] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Look, I’m a bit biased, of course, given my, background. But I still think the sustainability of the industry is one of the biggest challenges and of course food loss and waste. and I’d just like to give a couple of stats around that firstly, worth mentioning that Historically, food waste has been seen as a cost of doing business and very few producers actually have really good data on, their historical losses of food waste throughout time. And even current years, if we ask a food producer, what their losses are then they can’t always tell us.

Your listeners are probably aware, that Australia is a great food producer. We produce enough food to feed 75 million people, which is three times our population, but we still have 5 million people in this country, which are food insecure. And that means they don’t know at some point in the year where their next meal was coming from and they don’t have the money to go out and, and that’s a shocking situation to be honest. But we are such a good food producer yet we’ve still got so many people going hungry in what is supposed to be the lucky country. And of course it’s not just here, globally there’s about 10% of the world population, which is undernourished or food insecure, and that’s about 800 million.

Right now the World Resources Institute is predicting, there’s about 56% food gap between now and 2050 based on current production systems. So unless we start changing the way we produce and consume food, we are going to have a lot of food shortages in the future. And, it’s something that we all need to be mindful of and we also need to start changing the global mindset when it comes to food.

We do see food waste as someone else’s problem in many ways. And really food needs to be as precious as oil or diamonds, which I’m sure you’re aware you can’t eat to stay alive. The overall movement has got to be about making food waste, a social taboo you know that it’s just socially unacceptable, no matter where you are in the world.

[00:06:21] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. So, what would you say is the most unexpected discovery you’ve found when it comes to fruits and vegetables traveling through the food supply chain?

[00:06:29] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah, the figures on fruit and vegetables are just shocking to be honest. So, FAO food and agriculture organisation estimates that globally about 45% of fruit and veg that are grown for human consumption are never eaten. You’re losing nearly half your crop and that’s, a lot of your profit right there. it’s just a crazy. figure. And, in some countries that figure goes much higher. And even in Australia, some areas, if we look from farm to fork, we’re talking 60% fruit and vegetable losses. Of course it costs exactly the same to grow a graded out potato, for example in terms of the water and the energy.

And and so all those resources are lost when we don’t eat the food. So that’s one of the biggest discoveries for me when I started getting into this field. We did some back of the envelope kind of calculations back in 2015. And the estimates are about $1.7 billion worth of fruit and veg is lost just in primary production and from pack houses in this country. And then if you take that through to, what’s also lost in retail and in the household, you’re probably doubling that. So it’s a fair proportion of our $20 billion a year food waste bill is just in fruit and veg.

And in terms of the, the reasons why I’m sure you’d be aware of a couple of them, but cosmetic standards of the retailers often get blame, but I think it’s worth mentioning that ultimately that’s the consumer that sets the cosmetic standards. That’s the fruit and veg that they walk past in, in the supermarket or at, at a weekend market that helps determine what is the acceptable cosmetic standard.

And that’s just to, try and avoid food waste at the retail stage as well. So we’re all part of that process and we all need to be more accepting of blemishes if we’re going to change the standards. The other area is in the cold chain. And the current estimates are about 25% of annual production of fruit and veg, which is worth about 3 billion throughout the supply chain uh, are lost through poor cold chain management.

The way people would often see that is the lovely strawberries they bring home in that punnet, and two days later, they’re growing fur and you think, how can that happen? Well, that’s often happened because there’s been poor cold chain management and getting those strawberries to the supermarket, or even on the way home from the supermarket.

So yeah, a couple of big areas that we need to be concentrating on.

[00:08:51] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Poor cold chain management it’s definitely a big one. So on that note, from where you stand, what would you identify as being one of the biggest pain points or blind spots within the supply chain Uh when it comes to food loss?

[00:09:04] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yep. So the, the two, I just mentioned certainly are key, but the one that I’d really like to talk about at the moment is the whole area of food rescue. Now we touched on this before, in terms of 5 million people being food insecure. What the food rescue agencies really need is more fresh produce, that it is the short shelf life harder commodities to manage, but it’s also what keeps us healthy.

And right now for most food producers , it doesn’t matter whether it’s fruit and veg or meats or dairy it’s cheaper to throw it away. Than it is to donate food. And again, that’s just a perverse situation in this country and many countries around the world. But it’s something that a lot of other countries have started to address.

Recently we did a project with Food Bank Australia and KPMG looking at what tax incentives could be created to support primary producers, to donate food and. Also, including things like not just the donation itself or the food itself, but the transportation to get it to food rescue charities and the logistics and the cold storage, they’re all critical steps in the supply chain to feeding those 5 million people that we need to and the figures are quite amazing.

So It would probably cost around 50 to a hundred million a year to implement such a system. And probably the best comparison is the R and D or research and development tax incentive. So we have 50 industry participants within our CRC and, most of them would be claiming an R and D tax incentive to do something, to reduce food waste, but the simple act of donation, they can’t claim.

And, and again, that’s a very strange situation. For an implementation cost of around 50 to a hundred million, the KPMG estimate, there would be a societal benefit around 2 billion a year. And that’s an amazing return on investment. And just something I think, we really need to take a a good look at because it will go a long way to help us reduce food waste in this country.

[00:11:03] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, that’s great. So has the COVID pandemic and the quarantine that’s come with that has that for better or worse, had any effect on your day to day operations. And if so, how?

[00:11:16] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah. So we’ve had a couple of projects that have been delayed, six plus months, and that’s mainly due to travel restrictions. Also getting access to things like supermarkets and looking at different initiatives and things like that that has been difficult during that time, because certainly the retailers have been absolutely flat out.

And I think most people would be aware of that. Certainly COVID caused some interesting changes in food waste behavior throughout the time. Over the last 18 months or so, because we saw an initial increase in food waste because everyone was stockpiling food. And when that food started to come to it’s used by and best before dates, people were throwing it out and kind of record numbers which is an awful situation because of course I’d taken in ahead of someone else and someone else could have used that food. But then we saw the reverse happen and that’s when people didn’t want to be going to the shops they started taking a real interest in how do I reduce my food waste and how do I make my food last as long as possible.

And we saw massive uptake in things like education campaigns and tips and tricks to extending your food’s shelf life and doing more with leftovers and using odd ingredients. We had a campaign called “fight food waste: It’s easy as”. It had record numbers of people hitting on it, but also following it through to the end point of, how do we actually start changing behavior? I think the reach was about 5 million people and the investment was about a hundred thousand dollars. Which was actually stimulus money. So you know we can reach a lot of people with not a huge amount of money and start getting change if the conditions are right.

Right now we’re seeing, that kind of COVID food waste behavior returning to normal as people get. Busier again, but all you need is another lockdown. The cycle starts again. So yeah, it’s really led to some interesting behavior, but what it has shown is that, deep down, most people want to reduce their food waste.

It’s a matter of time and things like that, but they just don’t always have that, often leads to people wasting food.

[00:13:15] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I agree. I think people deep down really do want to reduce food waste. So , when it comes to food loss and sustainability within the cold chain, you were mentioning earlier, you were talking about some of these areas, but I was just wondering which areas are you most curious about at the moment? What are you doing the most research on when it comes to free loss and sustainability within the cold chain?

[00:13:37] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah. An interesting question. The one that we’re really starting to push on now is this whole area of upcycled foods. And I’m sure many people will be saying, what the hell is an upcycled food? Excuse the language. But a classic example is Vegemite.

It’s a food that’s made from ingredients that, that would’ve otherwise been wasted or thrown away.

So Vegemite is made from brewer’s yeast, which is a by-product of the brewing process. We’ve been eating it for decades. And most people wouldn’t think of it as coming from a waste stream. But, that’s exactly what happened. Now of course we’re getting much more innovative in the area of upcycled foods and we’re brewing beer from day old bread.

For example, there’s a beer called toast ale overseas. There was one in Australia called loafer. That was brewed from day old bread. Well, that’s a great use of day old bread because bread is one of the most wasted food items in this country. And if we can put it to other uses and rather than sending it to landfill, then that’s a great way forward.

So we’ve just taken on one of the global leaders in this area a new program leader called Francesca Goodman Smith. She’s joined us from a supermarket chain in New Zealand where she was really focused on upcycled foods. And so she’ll be doing a whole strategy around upcycled foods in Australia, their potential, the, the low-hanging fruit as such.

And I’m, I’m really excited about that. But I’d like to also give a little plug for another company that we’ve had a bit to do with, and that’s Natural Evolution Foods up in far North Queensland, and they’ve been turning graded out bananas, green bananas and so on into things like powders and prebiotics, cake mixtures, and ointments and a whole range of different, exciting, innovative products.

The possibilities are really endless and I think it’s, something coming from an innovation side in a previous CRC where I was developing new products to control or manage pest animals. I really like to see that innovation happening in this space now. So that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

[00:15:36] Mitch: Yeah. Awesome. On the back end of you talking about natural evolution, are there any other groups or innovative products out there within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on?

[00:15:46] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah. In answer to that I think it’s really the whole global movement around the upcycled foods. I’ve kind of outlined what’s happening here in Australia, but there’s some really innovative stuff happening overseas. There’s food transformation hubs where people can take surplus food, that the crop residues kind of thing, that they can’t sell and, and turn them into something of value.

And just the whole, innovation ecosystem around this, I think is something really exciting. Europe’s probably leading at the moment but we’re certainly trying to catch up pretty quick. I’d love to see a day where I can walk into a supermarket and see a full aisle dedicated to these sustainable, innovative upcycled foods.

But that won’t happen unless of course there’s good consumer acceptance. And while there’s, I think there’s some early adopters that are really looking for these products in the market. It’s not until, we get them more widely accepted. That you’ll get significant investment in this area, but that’s what I’m keeping my eye on.

[00:16:42] Mitchell Denton: Oh, that’s great. So what’s one thing you wish you had known before you began working at Fight Food Waste?

[00:16:49] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah. I came into this field as a technical scientist and an innovator, as I mentioned before. But of course, managing food waste, isn’t a technical problem. That’s part of the solution, but it’s not the solution. And it’s really a social challenge. And really, unless we start changing our mindset around food waste, then the technical solutions just aren’t going to deliver what we need in terms of, trying to halve food waste in this country by 2030.

Um, but that said, I can see the tide changing at the moment. Certainly the media is interested. The public are interested. Our surveys show about 75% of people that we’ve surveyed around Australia want to reduce their food waste. They want to see this as something that governments, individuals, restaurants, retailers are all pushing for.

And that, that’s a great thing. The momentum’s there, we’ve just got to be up to provide the right information. And to make sure that, we change food waste from what is generally an unconscious behavior, whether it’s in business or in our households and make it conscious. So we think about it before we do it.

And when we start thinking about it, we start changing our own behavior.

[00:17:57] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, I think if we can address some of those unconscious behaviors when it comes to food waste, I think we’ll see some dramatic change in the future.

So as we come to a close, I just want to ask you, what’s the number one takeaway you really want the listeners to absorb from this episode?

[00:18:11] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Yeah it really is that everyone has a role to play here. And when we ask people, as I mentioned before, do you want to do something about food waste? Yes. Most people say they do, but then you say how much food you waste and they say, oh, well, we don’t waste anything. It’s everyone else that wastes food.

[00:18:25] Mitchell Denton: Yeah.

[00:18:27] Dr. Steven Lapidge: And then there’s also a couple of, I guess, quirks in “what is food waste?” Cause many people feel that if you feed it to your chooks or your dog or if you put it into your compost, then it’s not wasted food. Well, unfortunately it is. As soon as those nutrients are lost to the human food supply chain, that’s still considered food waste.

It’s still a much better solution than it going to landfill, but it’s still food waste. So making sure that we all do our bit to prevent food waste from occurring in the first place. And that means, buying the right amount of food, cooking, just what you need, storing it, properly, eating your leftovers .

It’s all those things that we need to do to change this situation. And that’s something that, every listener can take away. We’ve got to make food waste as socially unacceptable as littering, for example we’ve been able to do that in this country and you don’t see litter on the side of the road, like you used to when I was growing up.

And we’ve been able to do it with some of the health issues like skin cancer, the slip slop slap campaign has been brilliant in halving rates of skin cancer in this country. Now it’s time to do it with food waste.

[00:19:30] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s all for today’s episode of let’s talk, farm to fork. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Steven, for joining me today.

[00:19:38] Dr. Steven Lapidge: Thanks Mitch.

[00:19:39] Mitchell Denton: For any listeners who would like to know more about Fight Food Waste, check out the link in the description of this episode, make sure to subscribe to this podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to leave a review and share with your friends.

Until next time you’ve been listening to let’s talk farm to fork a Post Harvest podcast.

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