Israeli conference presenting new food waste reduction guidelines, marred by protest

Leket Israel, one of Israel’s largest nonprofit food banks, teamed up with global organizations to advocate for sustainability innovations in the nation and around the world.

 Police attempt to push back protesters on Ayalon Highway during judicial reform protests, March 1, 2023. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Police attempt to push back protesters on Ayalon Highway during judicial reform protests, March 1, 2023.

A conference meant to highlight a new set of guidelines to reduce food waste in Israel was disrupted by loud protests before it even began Tuesday. The protests were part of a consistent movement to confront members of the government who are in favor of judicial reforms.

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The demonstrations were directed toward Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, who supports the government’s judicial reforms and was slated to speak at the event, held in Gan Haim, a rural community around 11 miles northeast of Tel Aviv.

Despite the disruptions, the speakers at the conference hosted by Leket Israel were still able to discuss the importance of the new guidelines.

“There’s so many examples of strong practices around the world, but we don’t always see them,” policy analyst for Harvard Law School Regan Plekenpol told The Media Line. “Israel is an amazing example of food sovereignty in a very unlikely context.”

The guidelines were written by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and were published with help from The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN). The two organizations created the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas in 2019. The goal of this research project was to evaluate how a lack of sustainability laws in dozens of countries around the world hinders the ability of food banks to operate effectively.

 Israel Border Police officers work to prevent protesters from spilling over into the highway amid nationwide judicial reform protests, March 1, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Israel Border Police officers work to prevent protesters from spilling over into the highway amid nationwide judicial reform protests, March 1, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

That project is how Harvard and GFN ended up collaborating with Leket this year to release new recommendations for the Israeli government. The report uses data from dozens of countries to see what Israel specifically can do to empower its food banks.

Leket has played a key role in acquiring and donating more than 61,000 tons of food in Israel over the last two decades. This collaboration allowed them to help lay out specific guidelines the Israeli government can follow to incentivize food donation.

The new guidelines recommend Israel pass a law requiring food businesses to donate surplus supplies instead of discarding them. It also recommends these businesses be required to report their food waste and potentially be taxed for excessive waste.

Food, health, and sustainability 

Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic Emily Broad Leib said Israel is already leading much of the world in certain areas of sustainability. For example, the country only has two labels on food that clearly differentiate between quality expiration date and safety expiration date. This helps people determine if old food in their pantry could be donated rather than thrown out.

Broad Leib emphasized the importance of a set of policies that create “either strong incentives or even an economic disincentive to keep wasting food.”

“It just feels to me like the values of Israel around community and food security and environment, there’s this real opportunity to kind of leap ahead and be the global leader,” she said.

The event was interrupted when protesters against Silman surrounded the Leket Logistics Center warehouse and began banging on the walls and blasting sirens on megaphones. The dozens of demonstrators almost outnumbered the attendees of the conference at one point. The noise echoed through the building and made hearing the speakers nearly impossible.

Silman previously served with right-wing parties as a member of the Knesset. She was appointed environmental protection minister by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in December 2022 and resigned her Knesset seat. The government has since come under heavy scrutiny following controversial judicial reforms proposed in January.

Israelis around the country have been protesting the reforms for months, claiming they threaten democracy in Israel by reducing the power of the judiciary. Silman attended a rally in April in support of the judicial reforms.

“She is trying to destroy [Israel],” one protestor said of the minister. “She’s trying to make it a dictatorship.”

Silman acknowledged the protests but defended her ministry’s work in reducing food waste.

“Look, we’re trying to do our best,” Silman told The Media Line. “We’re trying to create good things and to take care of the health and security and the food security of the Israeli people.”

The noise of the protests delayed the event for nearly an hour. When the minister did begin her speech, her words were drowned out by protesters in the crowd who blew whistles and waved Israeli flags. When she finished her speech and left the event, the protesters dispersed as well.

Leket CEO Israel Gidi Kroch defended the Environmental Protection Ministry and its help in implementing the new guidelines.

“We have a government that’s willing to do something,” Kroch told The Media Line. “It’s the first time that I see a real push and shove in the government for it, and that’s the minister. You can not like her for any political reasons, but she’s a shaker and she’s a doer.”

Kroch said that Leket was working closely with various organizations to implement policy changes to reduce food waste both in Israel and around the world.

“I think this report that Harvard produced really shows a guideline of very practical, small steps of what to do, where we are compared to the world, what we’re good at, what we need to be better in,” Kroch said.

The guidelines set a goal of a 50% reduction of food waste in Israel by 2030. The collaboration between these organizations, as well as help from the Environmental Protection Ministry, aims to help the country change its laws surrounding food donation, thus reducing food waste.

Patrick Doyle is a recent graduate of San Diego State University and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.