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Legislating Tons of Food for the Poor

Tons of edibles will now reach millions of poor and hungry due to liability curbs

Following the historic passage of The Food Donation Act, the state of Israel has become the fifth nation [following the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Italy] to enact such legislation and the nation’s 1.8 million poor are set to benefit by its newfound access to thousands of tons of edibles that until now have ended up in the trash heap.

The bill, which has been in the pipeline for a decade and only began to receive serious consideration some six years ago, provides legal protection to donors and food companies that meet government safety standards, thus enabling the food to be consumed by the needy rather than wasted while so many languish below the poverty line.

According to Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, the nation’s largest organization distributing food to the poor, providing almost ten pounds of fresh produce and deliverable meals each week to some 175,000 Israelis, recalled to The Media Line the early years a decade ago when the bill was more of a concept than a piece of active legislation winding its way through the legislative process. Its sponsors understood the massive amounts of food that is wasted, from meals removed from restaurant tables uneaten to milk at the end of its shelf-life, to parts of foodstuffs trimmed by the chef and until now, discarded.

Even with the new law, the job of salvaging the food that will be redirected to the hungry is formidable. Kroch estimated that “there are between five hundred and one thousand food pantries” and despite Leket Israel’s size, “it serves [about] two hundred of them.”

Nevertheless, because of the bill’s passage into law, Leket Israel’s founder and chairman, Joseph Gitler, predicts fifteen percent growth for 2019, beyond the current delivery rate of 2.5 million meals and 40 million pounds of fruit and vegetables.

Although many express a sense of shock that legislation such as the Food Donation Act should have been so difficult to pass given its noble purpose and apparent ease of implementation through seasoned practitioners like Leket and the second-largest organization, Latet. But those who shepherded the bill for what seems to have been forever, speak respectfully of lawmakers who for whatever reason embraced the bill. Gitler expressed to The Media Line that the legislation fosters the expectation that “these protections should lead to a flood of new food donations primarily from people concerned about food liability that now have protections in place. This law gives us the ability to give more meals and service more people and allow more people to take food home. Often, it’s the largest meal and the only meal [recipients] have in a day.”

Those who nurtured the bill since its inception note its failure to generate much energy during its first four years, and credit Member of Parliament Hilik Bar of the Labor Party for jump-starting the effort six years ago, with legislators Orly Levy and Shuli Mualem signed on as co-sponsors. Those who followed and carried the effort to fruition were led by Uri Maklev, Moshe Gafni and Mordechai Yogev. Asked what drew his attention to legislation that had been seemingly stagnant for four years, Bar told The Media Line that, “$4.06 billion worth of edible food was being destroyed when people had nothing to eat. Tons of food is being wasted while 1.8 million Israelis suffer from food insecurity.”

Nevertheless, according to Bar, the primary obstacle was the government itself which feared lawsuits resulting from citizens eating bad food. “They were afraid people would sue them for getting food poisoning. The Ministry of Justice placed a lot of obstacles and after many meetings finally agreed,” according to Bar.

“Twenty percent of Israelis who live below the poverty line and cannot make ends meet will now benefit from The Food Donation Act” according to Gitler.

To Bar, “It’s a truly historic bill and a revolution in this field of saving food and giving to others. Moments like this make it worthy to be a legislator in Israel.”