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HUNGER BARRIERS

FoodForward SA calls for donor-friendly laws to stop good food from going to waste

FoodForward SA calls for donor-friendly laws to stop good food from going to waste
(Photo: foodforwardsa.org)

More than 10 million tonnes of food are wasted annually, costing the country about R64-billion. FoodForward SA says edible and safe food is dumped all too often while millions are starving. It has the infrastructure to intercept dumping, feed the hungry and stop wholesale abuse of precious resources.

A FoodForward SA petition to change regulations governing food donations and labelling is gaining momentum, with the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa throwing its weight behind the effort. For this to happen, numerous hurdles need to be cleared, not least among them perceptions on food safety.

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) data from 2021 suggests that 9.34 million people in South Africa suffer from acute food insecurity, 30 million are food insecure, and almost a fifth of households have inadequate access to food.

More than 10 million tonnes of food are wasted annually, costing the country about R64-billion. 

The CSIR says because South Africa is a net exporter of food, the losses and waste are equivalent to 45% of the available food supply in the country, which suggests high levels of inefficiency throughout the food value chain.

Food waste at the consumption stage is 18% — more than three times higher than previous estimates in 2013 and 2015. Cereals contribute half of the overall losses and waste, followed by fruit and vegetables (19%), milk (14%), meat (9%), roots and tubers (5%), oilseeds and pulses (2%) and fish (1%).

Not only does this threaten food security, but it’s a waste of resources used in food production and distribution, and has a significant impact on the environment. 

The CSIR study, released in August last year, suggests 4.3% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions emanate from the disposal of food.

Feeding the hungry

Most of that food is lost or wasted in the supply chain, but if it’s intercepted at the right time, South Africa could feed the hungry and solve our food security crisis, says FoodForward SA.

Chief among the reasons for household food wastage were date codes (specifically sell-by and expiry dates); followed by product appearance (old/off/rotten/smells bad, with cooked produce featuring prominently); forgotten produce in storage; packaging that cannot be resealed and therefore providing poor protection; preparing too much food; slow consumption; pests; buying too much; picky eaters and poor cooking skills.

Andy du Plessis, managing director of FoodForward — the country’s largest distributor of quality edible surplus food — says they are calling for four changes to existing policies: Changes to food safety guidelines for the regulation of food donations; liability protection for food manufacturers and other donors; for the government to look at date labelling issues, which will require minor amendments to the Consumer Protection Act; and tax incentives for food donors. 

Two Consumer Goods Council surveys, conducted in April and May this year, found potential donors are uncertain about the steps that need to be taken to safely and legally donate food, which makes them less likely to do so.

Seventy-six percent said they would be more likely to donate — or would donate more food — if the government provided official guidance on safety. On laws related to food donations, 30% of respondents believed they were not allowed to donate perishable or non-perishable foods, or were uncertain about whether they were allowed to do so.

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Ninety percent of respondents agreed that as long as food remains safe to eat, food businesses should be explicitly allowed to donate food that is unsellable. Seventy-five percent agreed that food businesses should be allowed to donate food past the “best before” date, as it is a freshness indicator and not an indicator of food safety, while 85% of respondents indicated that concerns about liability due to food safety issues is a barrier to food donations.

Sixty-two percent agreed that they would start donating, or would donate more food, if they were legally protected from liability, while 78% of respondents believed that if food businesses donated surplus food — tagging all food safety steps to ensure food safety — they should not be liable for resulting harm or injury to a beneficiary of free food.

Du Plessis says SA is destroying enormous quantities of good food unnecessarily.

“For example, two weeks ago the meat importers had to dump [incinerate] 20 tonnes of beef because it was 0.3°C less than what the expected temperature should have been when it arrived [at the port]. And farmers dumped tonnes of citrus

“It’s insane and unfortunately common that, in a country such as ours with so many people being food insecure, we haven’t learnt to connect the dots so that we can use this food to feed people and mitigate against the environmental impact of food loss and waste and climate change. 

“It’s the low-hanging fruit to solve a food security crisis in South Africa.”

Liability

For food manufacturers, liability is the biggest issue, because if recipients get ill from donated food, the manufacturer is held liable.

“That’s one of the major prohibitive factors, which is causing them to dump and incinerate their stock. And it’s good, edible, surplus food… there’s nothing wrong with the food that’s within its [use-by] date.

“It’s often just surplus throughout the supply chain because of ordering, incorrectly labelled goods etc. But they are hesitant to donate that onwards.”

FoodForward is working with the council, the Citrus Growers Association and other supply chain actors to help create awareness that edible and within-date surplus foods that can be used to feed people should be donated.

It’s also in talks with the Western Cape provincial government and is hoping for support from the SA Human Rights Commission, which launched an investigation into reports of child malnutrition and starvation in the Eastern Cape. It also wants the Health Department to look at changes to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, and “minor” amendments to the Consumer Protection Act (most likely section 61, which governs liability).

“We are attacking this problem on several fronts. Supply chain actors need to be aware that they can donate the surplus food and not just dump it. There are alternatives. And we need to get that message out more.”

Du Plessis says FoodForward has warehouses with cold rooms and a fleet of trucks in every province, which enables them to retain the cold chain. 

“We collect food from distribution centres and manufacturing plants already. But more supply chain actors need to be able to donate, which will allow us to intercept that food before it is lost or wasted.”

The food policy petition can be signed here: Petition for a food donations policy to end hunger. BM/DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hilary Clark says:

    This is a brilliant initiative in this culture of excess/ desperate need . Starvation blights any attempt to further improvement of society . No one can function properly when constantly hungry .

  • Palesa Tyobeka says:

    Just been on an SAA flight from OR to King Shaka. Was shocked to see unopened Yoghurt being thrown away as thrash. Shocking.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Hope this iniative works out. There might be objections from shops in poor areas and goverment involvement in any suuply chain sounds warning bells.
    But waste is worse.

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