Accusing authorities of failing to adequately address the issue of food loss, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira called upon the government to create a comprehensive national plan for curbing this wasteful and economically detrimental phenomenon in his latest report released on Tuesday.
Finding that the issue of food loss has not been widely addressed among government authorities, Shapira criticized the lack of relevant data collection; insufficient public education; inadequacies in the fixation of food expiration dates and storage instructions; and unclear guidelines regarding utilization of food surpluses. He called upon the relevant offices to act upon his report and deploy a coordinated administrative body to handle the problem.
From March through October 2014, the State Comptroller’s Office evaluated the ways in which government bodies handle food loss, with some follow-up examinations occurring through January 2015, the report said.
The audit involved a variety of government offices, including the Agriculture Ministry, the Plants Production and Marketing Board, the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Health Ministry, the IDF, the Israel Police, the Prisons Service, government hospitals, the Religious Services Ministry, the Chief Rabbinate and other agencies.
By examining the conduct of these public offices, Shapira said he hoped to identify the “hubs of food loss” as well as the barriers for their elimination, and help introduce measures adapted by other countries to address such problems in the future.
“In the world of dwindling resources and a growing population, the mission to provide food for all people has become one of the major challenges of humanity,” Shapira said.
Food loss has social, environmental and economic consequences, such as an inability to use such food for the purpose of feeding the needy, the state comptroller said.
Meanwhile, when the costs of crop growth and production simply “go down the drain,” an increase in supermarket prices is likely to result, thereby increasing social gaps, Shapira explained.
From an environmental perspective, food loss wastes natural resources as well as the inputs used in food production, such as land, water, manpower, fertilizers and fuel, causing unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution by fertilizers and soil degradation, the report said.
Looking at some particularly problematic aspects of Israel’s handling of food loss, the state comptroller found that Israel suffers from a sheer lack of data available on the subject, with few estimates available as to the amount of food lost along the supply chain, from manufacturer to consumer.
Shapira also particularly faulted the Agriculture Ministry for failing to formulate any plan for reducing excess crop growth and minimizing produce loss, including the optimal utilization of surpluses.
While Article 60 of the 1973 Plants Production and Marketing Board Law demands that no plant surpluses be destroyed without a permit from the agriculture minister or ministry director- general, this article has not been followed for many years, the report said.
With regards to formulating a plan for reducing surpluses and product losses, the Agriculture Ministry responded that it does not intend to intervene beyond providing current and transparent information, as “the market is a free market and prices are balanced between supply and demand.”
The ministry acknowledged the existence of some food destruction violations, as well as the lack of clarity at the Plants Production and Marketing Board about the issue, but stressed that only a few such cases of destruction have occurred. In those cases, officials said they have made clear to the board that it acted illegally, and the two offices are formulating a procedure for filing for food destruction permits.
Also looking into the reasons that some agricultural products end up destroyed, the state comptroller identified that sometimes such loss occurs due to poor quality production, use of pesticides above permitted rates and picking of unripe fruits.
Another source of loss is kashrut, as tens of thousands of tons of produce per year are discarded for such reasons but without consulting the relevant religious authorities, Shapira added. In these cases, he suggested that subject to the requirements of Jewish law, such crops be designated to feeding the needy.
Regarding the reasons for destruction, the Agriculture Ministry stressed that regulations on plant production and marketing require crops to meet minimum safety requirements, and that compliance supervision is carried out by government inspectors. When food is not allowed to be marketed due to issues like pesticide overuse or microbiological contaminants, its destruction is ordered by a government physician by means of the country’s Health Ordinance, the ministry explained.
Loss of produce due to unripe picking or signs of decay can be prevented by considering its use for other industries, such as animal feed, the Agriculture Ministry said. Ministry officials have worked to draft relevant regulations, which will soon be submitted to the Knesset, the office confirmed.
Pinpointing a lack of public awareness on food loss, Shapira suggested that the Education Ministry and Environmental Protection Ministry integrate stronger food loss reduction campaigns within their school sustainable consumption programs.
Regarding expiration dates on produce packaging, Shapira stressed the importance of clearly indicating whether the date printed means “best used by” or “for marketing until,” as consumers are often confused and unnecessarily discard food as a result. Including storage instructions on packaging is also crucial, he added.