How much food do Israelis waste every year?

Israel is one of the only countries in the OECD not to meet its food rescue target.

Leket Israel volunteers gather food. (photo credit: COURTESY LEKET ISRAEL)
Leket Israel volunteers gather food.
Israel wastes some 2.3 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 at a press conference in Ramat Gan by Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Ziv Haft Consulting Group, which collaborated on the report, and Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch.
The third annual report included a detailed study of food waste in Israel in 2017, focusing on food waste and rescue in the retail and distribution industry, including retail chains, supermarkets, local grocery stores and small retailers, among others.
“The report brings to light that there are enormous levels of food waste that can be saved, if only there was a greater level of public awareness and the implementation of adequate government regulation,” Kroch said.
According to the report, the value of food lost in Israel stands at some NIS 19.5 billion, approximately 1.6% of the country’s GDP.
This translates to a loss of some NIS 650 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 1.1 million tons, is “rescuable”, meaning that it is worthy of human consumption. The value of this rescuable food is estimated at NIS 7b. annually.
As such, the report explained that each shekel invested in food rescue provides NIS 3.6 worth of food. Adding in factors such as environmental benefits, this figure doubles to NIS 7.2 for every shekel invested.
The report found that around half of the value of salvageable food is found in the retail and distribution sectors, with total food loss amounting to 400,000 tons this year, worth NIS 4.2b.
The main reasons for this food loss include food that has reached or will shortly reach its expiry date; foods with aesthetic defects in the packaging or product; and food damaged in the marketing process.
Furthermore, the report found that the cost of food waste in this sector is incorporated into final the price of the final consumer product, in turn increasing the cost of living in Israel, which is already significantly high.
According to the report, surplus food in the retail and distribution sectors is “inevitable” as retailers are required to ensure a constant available food supply to consumers who will not tolerate a shortage of the food items they want to buy.
As such, the Leket Israel report explains that the solution is to salvage the excess food to feed and provide food security for the country’s needy population.
“The fact that excess food is discarded rather than rescued represents a market failure, and therefore one of the government’s policy challenges is to create a system of incentives that will save these surpluses and transfer them to the needy,” the report states.
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 470,000 tons of food valued at NIS 3b. – 20% of the food wasted in Israel annually – should address the problem of food insecurity.
Rescuing this food instead, the study indicated, would cost only NIS 830m. – resulting in a surplus of some NIS 2.1b. for the state. Taking into account social and environmental factors, this figure more than doubles to NIS 4.5b.
Unfortunately, the report showed that only 28,000 tons of food – accounting for only 1.2% of food wasted each year – is rescued in Israel, valued at NIS 140 million.
“Israel is greatly lagging behind other countries in this field,” Kroch told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
In September 2015 the UN established a 50% food waste-reduction goal by the year 2030. The US, a world leader in food rescue, as well as other European countries, have adopted a similar goal.
“Israel is not even close to setting a target for minimizing food waste,” Kroch said, noting that Israel is one of the only countries in the OECD that has not even set a target.
According to the report, three 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 Leket Israel CEO, requires first and foremost setting government policy for food rescue, including setting food rescue goals as well as passing legislation to encourage food rescue.
The government has taken certain minimal strides, as several government ministries, including Social Services and Agriculture, launched pilot programs in 2017 to rescue food for the needy, Kroch explained.
“We are only at the beginning of the process,” he said. “But the government is still looking for matching [funds from charities] rather than taking the lead and investing in this issue.”
“We need a national plan for food rescue, and someone needs to take responsibility for this issue – whether it is one ministry or several ministries collaborating – and together we can develop a national plan for food waste and rescue in Israel,” Kroch said.