Israel is throwing away approximately 35 percent of the food it produces, to the value of an estimated NIS 18 billion in 2015, according to a report released this week by Leket Israel, the National Food Bank.
The food waste in Israel has far-reaching implications, especially for the 17% of Israeli society considered “food insecure” — those who are not sure that they will have enough food over the course of the month.
“There are things that we can do with very minimal effort to rescue food, but we need to have policies that will direct this, policies that come from a government level,” said Gidi Kroch, the CEO of Leket Israel.
Leket’s independent report comes in response to the May 2015 State Comptroller’s report, which found that Israel is wasting at least 30% of locally produced food, but that further research is necessary to determine how to better direct these resources.
Where’s the waste?
“Wasted food” refers to items such as crooked, over-sized or blemished produce that does not sell well at the market. It can also refer to expired dairy or meat products. Fruit and vegetables account for 75% of the wasted food.
Most of the food waste occurs during the harvesting and consumption stages of the food distribution chain. The “consumption” stage refers to when the food is distributed to supermarkets and stores.
“When the price that a farmer gets is less than 1 shekel per kilo for a product, it’s not economically viable for him to harvest it,” explained Kroch. This means that it makes more sense for farmers to simply leave blemished fruit in the fields, even though it has full nutritional value.
Agriculture isn’t the only time food goes to waste. Hotels, companies, and restaurants throw out thousands of kilos of cooked food every month. These companies could easily be paired with local soup kitchens and food banks, which are in desperate need of donations. Part of Leket’s operations include the use of 20 refrigerated trucks to redistribute donated cooked food to needy organizations.
One key issue is Israel’s lack of a “Good Samaritan Law” — legislation that safeguards a company that donates food from legal responsibility for anyone who gets sick after consuming it. This means companies are wary of donating food, as they are not protected by law.
Leket has been trying to promote a “Good Samaritan Law” for the past seven years, with a serious push over the past two years, but the Justice Ministry has been opposed to the legislation as it denies people the right to sue, said Kroch. He is hopeful that with the publication of Leket’s report, the current government will see the importance of reducing food waste in Israel’s economic, social, and environmental sectors.
The Jewish state’s food waste is a little higher than the global average of 33% of domestically produced food that is lost. The UN has set a worldwide goal of halving that number by 2030.
According to Leket, 50% of the food that is currently lost in Israel is safe for human consumption. Rescuing food also has environmental benefits, including ensuring the food does not end up in a landfill. It is also an alternative to food production (saving a cucumber removes the need to grow a replacement cucumber), reducing the use of water and pesticides, as well as stemming negative environmental issues arising from food production.
A significant problem is that food rescue is beneficial on a national level, but not for the individual producers, such as farmers or hotels. Nor is it economically viable for them to rescue the food they waste.
“For every shekel of saved food, it is actually worth 3.6 shekels, because you’re saving all the effort of creating the food,” said Chen Herzog, the chief economist for BDO Israel, the consulting group that carried out the survey for Leket. The difficulty is that those savings are passed on to the entire society, not the producer, so the free market still discourages individual companies and producers from rescuing food.
For that reason, explained Kroch, government intervention is the only way to ensure that food gets directed towards those who need it, and not towards a landfill. One aspect is the “Good Samaritan Law,” which would encourage more industries to donate cooked food. Another aspect would be to require state-funded bodies with kitchens serving more than 1,000 people — including the Israel Defense Forces and government ministries — to donate their food to recognized non-profit organizations.
The Leket report deals with food waste on an industry level, not on a household one, even though private homes also generate a significant amount of waste in food production. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the average family throws away up to NIS 350 of food per month due to buying more than is needed. However, the policy issues need to deal with major consumers and suppliers, not individual homes, said Kroch. He encouraged families to evaluate how much food they actually need and purchase accordingly to reduce waste.
Leket believes that an investment of NIS 840 million could actually save the country NIS 2.1 billion in food waste annually. Even if Israel were able to rescue 25% of the food waste, that would reduce a sizable amount of the food insecurity in Israel.
“Saving food won’t solve all the problems of food insecurity, but I think saving this food can play a central role,” said Kroch, who believes that the hi-tech sector, in which he previously worked, can impart important lessons regarding the issue of food waste.
“It’s all about logistics. It’s about focusing on the economic viability and why it’s important, that will encourage people to participate.”