Food rescue: Social, economic, environmental?

No one wants to take responsibility for the issue. The Agriculture Ministry and Rural Development believe that food rescue should be taken care of by the Welfare and Social Affairs ministries.

 PRODUCE, RESCUED by Leket Israel to benefit Israelis in need, is loaded for distribution to its partner agencies. (photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)
PRODUCE, RESCUED by Leket Israel to benefit Israelis in need, is loaded for distribution to its partner agencies.
(photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)

The concept of food rescue is as complex as it is simple. Take quality, nutritious food that would otherwise be thrown away and distribute it to those in need. This process actually lengthens the supply chain and makes better use of the resources invested in food production. Simple right? However, the process is actually significantly more intricate than that. The many effects that come from food rescue are unique and numerous, as well as create additional complexities.

Who receives the most benefits from rescuing food? Is it the economy – by utilizing production inputs? Is it the welfare – reducing social gaps? Is it the environment – prevention of landfills and greenhouse gas emissions? Is it the farmers – utilization of surplus agricultural produce?

This is what makes food rescue so complex. On one hand, food rescue is a solution for many issues. Environmentally, we are expected to preserve the environment and prevent landfill and greenhouse gases so that we can continue to live on the planet. Furthermore, we know that food waste causes a rise in the cost of living by 11% and from an agricultural point of view, we don’t want to utilize resources to create surplus that will be destroyed.

So, what is the problem? No one wants to take responsibility for the issue. The Agriculture Ministry and Rural Development believe that food rescue should be taken care of by the Welfare and Social Affairs ministries because it is their clientele who are receiving the surplus food. Does that mean that the Agriculture Ministry believes that the Welfare Ministry should be concerned with all the surplus agricultural produce?

It is the responsibility of the Agriculture Ministry to support the farmers who produce the agricultural produce. It would not take a lot of effort for the ministry to alleviate some of the economic pressure that the farmers face in order to grow more fruit and vegetables. The more the farmers are able to grow, the more surplus there will be for those in need.

The Welfare Ministry works differently in that it incorporates the work of other ministries. Unlike other ministries, the Welfare Ministry has published tenders to support food rescue. The ministry recognizes the value of food rescue and believes that it is the best solution and use for its budget. As it has already begun utilizing food rescue it would make sense for the Ministry to be the responsible body. But, is that really the best decision when taking into account all aspects of food waste?

 The answer is unequivocally no. The Welfare Ministry does everything it can for its constituents in providing food. But, the vision needs to be much broader to cover all the different aspects of food rescue including overseeing the growing process from start to finish. If the Agriculture Ministry is not the overseer of this process, then why are they tasked with setting the wholesale price for produce? This is exactly why they should be setting the price for surplus as well; this will create a better balance.

But, this is not enough. The Environmental Protection Ministry has a fund with billions of shekels in it for cleaning. Two of the funds’ goals, according to its website, are waste disposal prevention, and waste treatment and recycling. Food rescue fits into both of these categories. The Ministry of Finance should be able to understand that the destruction of food causes an increase in the cost of living and causes the manufacturers to increase the price of their products. Additionally, it is a cheaper solution for transportation and landfilling. In short, food rescue is fast, cheap and invaluable.

Every ministry in the government has a reason to support and encourage food rescue. The Ministry of Health encourages eating fresh agricultural produce and healthy food in general for the entire population, especally for low socioeconomic communities. The Prime Minister’s Office serves as the head of all future strategies on significant issues for the continued existence of the state, and the Defense Ministry oversees food security and the continued supply of food to Israel during times of war and throughout the year.

So, what is the solution? The Prime Minister’s Office must take responsibility for the issue of food rescue in Israel as a practical, quick and affordable solution to the food insecurity crisis, and allocate funds for research, developing resources, finding food rescue resources and offering strategies. The Prime Minister’s Office must also take into account the treaty signed by the government for reducing waste and greenhouse gases, which will not happen without a powerful and influential leader.

Gone are the days of the Welfare Ministry, and the Industry and Trade Ministry. Now, our focus should be on food rescue, the impact is far reaching and will help the entire population.

Leket Israel – the National Food Bank, rescues fresh agricultural produce from farms and packing houses, and cooked food from hotels, corporate cafeterias and IDF army bases, to be redistributed to Israelis in need through a network of 263 nonprofit partner agencies, feeding 223,000 people weekly. In 2021, Leket Israel rescued 55 million lbs. of fruit and vegetables, and 1.7 million meals.

The writer is CEO of Leket Israel. For more information visit www.leket.org/en