‘2.2 million tonnes’ of food is thrown away; should Canada legislate food waste?

Published January 21, 2020 at 5:29 pm

Food waste has been rampant for decades while Food Secure Cana

Food waste has been rampant for decades while Food Secure Canada estimates that almost 2.5 million Canadians live without secure access to food.

Meanwhile, countries like France and Italy have taken legislative steps to either punish businesses who throw food away or reward them with tax breaks for donating unsold food to charities.

Denmark is home to a “food waste” grocery store that only sells discarded food. Sound gross? That’s the point: de-stigmatizing the term “food waste”.

If you’re the CEO of Second Harvest, you scrap the term altogether.

“I don’t like it,” said Lori Nikkel. “It’s a food surplus, not food waste.”

At no cost to the business, Second Harvest food rescue manages the logistics of transport and redistribution of surplus food in Ontario. No one is donating half-eaten apples or chunky milk; but rather, mislabeled containers, overstocked items, bruised fruit, and misshaped vegetables that farmers and grocery chains typically discard.

According to Second Harvest, 58 per cent of the food in Canada gets thrown in the trash.

So why aren’t more businesses taking advantage of services like Second Harvest and Burlington-based Food for Life?

“A lot of them don’t even know,” continued Lori Nikkel. “There needs to be an education so businesses know organizations are out there. Businesses are also afraid of liability if someone gets sick off the food they donate without even knowing they’re protected.”

In 1994, Ontario enacted the Donation of Food Act where a “person who donates food or who distributes donated food to another person is not liable for damages resulting from injuries or death caused by the consumption of the food unless, the food was adulterated, rotten or otherwise unfit for human consumption; and in donating or distributing the food, the person intended to injure or to cause the death of the recipient of the food or acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others”.

Local organizations don’t necessarily feel that Canada even needs to follow France and Italy in enacting laws that force or incentivize businesses to donate their food surplus.

“We have not lobbied for legislation but rather engage actively in government working groups that are focused on this issue,” said Graham Hill, Executive Director of Food for Life, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. “We continue to educate, offer service and develop our ability to source, sort and share food, ensuring that edible food does not end up in a landfill.”

Food for Life works collaboratively in sourcing, sorting and sharing fresh food in Halton Region and Hamilton. Through 95 Food for Life programs and agencies, they serve more than 18,000 people struggling with hunger each month.

In 2019, over 4 million pounds of food was collected and distributed. 

“I don’t think legislation is the way to go,” added Second Harvest’s Lori Nikkel. “You have to look at the system as a whole because giving food away doesn’t mean anything unless you have organizations who can take it. People want to give the food away but don’t have the structure or capacity to do it.”

One area that Nikkel believes the government could step in is “best before dates”.

“Best before dates need legislation because they’re not regulated and very conservative. Best before doesn’t mean bad after, and so perfectly edible food is being thrown away.”

According to the National Zero Waste Council’s research on food waste in Canada, almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food is wasted each year, costing Canadians in excess of $17 billion. 

“Approximately 40 per cent of food waste happens in the household,” continued Food for Life’s Graham Hill. “Residents can have a tremendous impact on food waste, from purchasing imperfect foods to preserving food in the home.”

“Being proactive in planning their shopping which reduces consumption and helps correct over producing markets.”

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