Food wastage is a massive problem across the globe. While many people go hungry every day, it has been established that South Africans waste one-third of all food in the country – roughly 10-million tonnes of food annually. This was the finding of a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA).
Food Loss and Waste: Facts and Futures states that South Africa produces around 31-million tonnes of food every year. Of the food that is wasted, 44% is vegetables and fruits, 26% is grains, 15% is meat and the remaining 13% consists of oilseeds, tubers and roots. Much of this food wastage happens at production and retail levels.
Many consumers are unintentionally guilty of wasting food
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) estimates that a massive R71.4-billion was lost as a result of inedible food waste in 2013. However, this amount could be much higher today. South Africa was last ranked 44th out of 133 countries, in terms of the availability, affordability, safety and quality of food.
Many consumers are unintentionally guilty of letting food go to waste. They may buy their fruits, vegetables and meat weekly, intending to cook and consume them. But often, busy lifestyles prevent them from cooking the food, resulting in bruised, wilting, molding or rotting food being thrown away.
Karl Muller, operations manager of the Tiger Brands Foundation, says all of this food wastage occurs “while an estimated 12 million South Africans go to bed hungry every night, with scores more facing gross food insecurity.”
South Africa should follow France in dealing with food wastage
Restaurants and food producers have also been found guilty of wasting food. These businesses have faced harsh criticism recently for discarding surplus food that was still edible. A number of restaurant chains also remain reluctant to donate their unused or uncooked food supplies to their staff members or other people in need.
Muller said that South Africa needed a model that resembled the one used in France at the moment. There, surplus food is made available to those in need, instead of being discarded and going to waste. Since 2016, French grocery suppliers have been required by law to donate leftover food to charitable causes.
Businesses that do not comply could receive a fine of up to $4500 (~R67 500). Discussions about donating unsold food to charity began in Italy, who gave rubbish collection tax breaks as an incentive to businesses that were willing to take part in this initiative. Apart from France, there are many more countries that support surplus food distribution, if the food is still edible.
Illegal to donate perishable food past expiry date in SA
In South Africa, it is illegal to donate or sell perishable food that has passed its expiry date, even if it is still safe for human consumption. “Maybe this country needs to re-look current legislation which regulates the use-by and sell-by dates of food,” says Muller.
“In a country where millions face gross food insecurity, we appeal to the government to amend these laws, in order to allow food manufacturers, distributors as well as the ordinary man on the street to donate food to those in need, in good faith, of course,” he explains.
According to Section 61 of the South African Consumer Protection Act: “The producer or importer, distributor or retailer of any goods is liable for any harm caused wholly or partly as a consequence of supplying any unsafe goods, a product failure, defect or hazard in any goods and inadequate instructions or warnings provided to the consumer.”
Food waste is a major problem around the world, but it is felt more so in countries like South Africa where a large portion of the population is hungry. Nearly one-third of all our food goes to waste, which is simply too much. Food that has expired and is inedible should be disposed of correctly. Organic foods such as vegetables, fruits and grains should always be composted.
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