Israel wastes some 2.4 million tons of food annually, accounting for 33% of all food produced in the country, according to a report released Tuesday by Leket Israel – The National Food Bank.
The annual report, “Food Waste and Rescue in Israel: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impact,” was presented by Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Ziv Haft Consulting Group, which collaborated on the report, and Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch at a press conference in Herzliya.
The report included a detailed study of food waste in Israel in 2016 and focused on food waste and rescue in the institutional sector, which includes hotels, banquet halls, military bases and hospitals, among others.
“This report touches upon many ministries – the Welfare Ministry, the Economy Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the Environmental Ministry – the government must take responsibility for this issue,” Kroch said at the press conference.
According to the report, the economic value of food lost in Israel stands at some NIS 19.5 billion, approximately 1.7% of the country’s GDP. This further translates into a loss of some NIS 675 per month per household in Israel.
The study addressed food rescue as an alternative to food production and found that half of this food, some 1.2 million tons, is salvageable, meaning that it is worthy of human consumption.
The value of this food is estimated at NIS 8b. annually.
As such, the report explained that each shekel invested in food rescue provides NIS 3.6 worth of food, and adding in factors such as the environmental benefits, this figure increases to NIS 7.2 for every shekel invested in food rescue.
In the institutional sector, some 214,000 tons of food is lost, valued at NIS 3.5b., including 44,000 tons lost in events, 31,000 tons in hotels, 38,000 tons in the IDF and 24,000 tons in hospitals.
Of this food, some 64 million meals, valued at NIS 1.1b., could be rescued annually.
The question then remains: where does all the excess rescued food go? The simple answer: toward feeding and providing food security for the country’s needy population.
The report found that some NIS 3b. worth of food needs to be rescued in order to bridge the food consumption gap between those suffering from food insecurity in Israel and the normative expenditure of the general population.
In other words, rescuing 450,000 tons of food, or 19% of the food wasted each year in Israel, valued at NIS 3b., should address the problem of food insecurity.
“Food rescue is clearly preferable compared to the alternative of attempting to bridge this food insecurity gap by means of allocations, donations, subsidies or support for the needy,” the report stated. “Without food rescue, it would require an annual cost of NIS 3b. to fully finance this gap.”
Instead, rescuing this food would cost only NIS 810m. – resulting in a surplus of some NIS 2.1b. for the state, the study indicated.
Unfortunately, the report showed that only 24,000 tons of food, accounting for only 1% of food wasted each year, is rescued in Israel.
“Israel is lagging behind other countries in the world with regard to food rescue,” Kroch said.
In September 2015, the UN established a 50% food waste reduction goal by the year 2030. The US, a world leader in food rescue, and other European countries have adopted a similar goal.
“We are one of the only countries in the OECD that has not set a target for minimizing food waste,” Kroch said.
The study noted that two years after the 2015 State Comptroller’s Report on food waste “warned about the lack of a clear government policy on the issue, there is still no national program for food rescue.”
Realizing this potential, according to the report, requires first and foremost setting government policy for food rescue.
“We need a revolution in thinking with regard to policy,” Kroch said. “In our report, we focused on realistic goals that are relatively easy and that do not cost a lot of money to implement.”
The most important first step Israel can take would be to join the UN declaration to reduce food waste, he added.
“The responsibility falls on the government – if we want to minimize the gap with other countries in food rescue, then we need to take this issue seriously,” Kroch said.
The report also called for finalizing legislation to encourage food surplus rescue.
It cited the US Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which absolves nonprofit organizations and food donors from civil or criminal liability.
The report called to require all state and state-financed institutions with kitchens catering to 1,000 people or more to rescue food.
This year a recommendation was issued to require state-funded bodies, including the IDF and government companies, to collaborate with a registered food rescue organization.
“There is a bigger picture here that goes beyond Leket Israel,” Joseph Gitler, the organization’s founder and chairman, told The Jerusalem Post
following the press conference.
“How much money and blood do we need to spill in order to get all the big players to sit together like they are doing in other countries? Multiple government ministries need to take responsibility for this issue,” he said.
To date, Leket Israel is the only major food rescue organization in the country, rescuing some 17,000 tons of food valued at NIS 170m. each year.
“We started out as an organization whose focus was on rescuing excess food; the sad part is that we have also had to be the ones to distribute it to the poor,” Gitler said. “It’s shameful behavior that in a country that has so much need, a successful Western country, there is no policy for food rescue.”
Still, Gitler said the last year has seen some positive trends. “Leket is rescuing over a million more meals than we were two years ago,” he explained.
“And we are starting to see more significant conversations with major food partners in the country,” he said. “When it comes to the government, it is slow going, but we are now seeing increased interest that we hope will continue and grow.”