A government investment of NIS 1 billion ($291.6 million) in food rescue projects could eradicate food insecurity in Israel and resolve a national food waste problem that comes to more than 20 times that sum every year, according to the head of the national food bank charity Leket Israel.
According to Leket Israel’s 7th annual report released Monday, Israel’s food waste of 2.6 million tons is valued at NIS 21.3 billion ($6.1 billion) every year, and comprises about 37% of all the food produced in the country per year. Of this food waste, 50% is salvageable and fit for human consumption. This translates to over 1 million tons of food that costs NIS 7.5 billion ($2.14 billion).
The report by Leket Israel also ranks Israel last among 18 countries regarding government action to resolve the problem.
Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch tells The Media Line that the prospective NIS 1 billion investment in food rescue could actually resolve the problem of food insecurity in Israel, which would otherwise cost NIS 3 billion to eradicate.
This means that “everybody would have enough food available for them whenever they want it, whenever they need it,” he says.
Every year, Israel is wasting billions of shekels in food that is thrown away, “instead of investing only 1 billion shekels to rescue the food and close the social gap,” he points out.
Chen Herzog, chief economist at the Tel Aviv-based BDO consulting firm, says that from an economic point of view, food rescue is much more cost-effective than giving welfare funds to the needy.
Herzog tells The Media Line that each shekel given to the needy can purchase a shekel’s worth of food, whereas the government investing that same shekel in encouraging food rescue would be worth 4 shekels in food insecurity projects.
Encouraging food rescue, he says, “is a measure that is four times more efficient than welfare policy and direct support to the needy.”
Kroch stresses that Israel’s enormous food waste problem has ripples across multiple fields.
Firstly, he says, as we waste food, we also waste other resources that are used to produce this food, with already scarce water topping the list.
Regarding the environment, Kroch says that producing this wasted food also contributes to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as claiming extra farmland ultimately for no purpose.
Another significant loss is in the economy, says Herzog. “It’s important to understand that the cost of food waste is translated to food prices.”
He says the cost of food waste is incorporated into the cost of food in Israel, which is one of the parameters of the soaring cost of living in the country.
“We all pay the price for food waste. There is a mutual interest in reducing waste, improving efficiency, and reducing the cost of living,” Kroch says.
Herzog says that the most significant wastage occurs at the two opposite ends of the food chain: production and consumption.
In terms of production, there is significant squandering when it comes to the agriculture sector, as a great deal of fruit and vegetables are not even picked due to the cost of the workforce and other issues. Regarding consumption, he says, people and institutions throw vast amounts of food away.
Kroch describes the situation as “horrendous and terrible.”
It is “just incomprehensible that Leket for seven years has been publishing this report, and the numbers don’t change a lot, and even they are gradually going up,” he says.
Herzog urges Israelis to be wise consumers who purchase food sensibly and without excess and eat responsibly at events, in hotels, and in other places where food is served.
“It is every citizen’s responsibility from an economic point of view, cost of living point of view, and environmental point of view to be a responsible consumer,” he says.
Even so, both Kroch and Herzog say, it is mainly the government’s responsibility to address this issue by implementing good policies.
While the report clarifies that food waste is a global problem and not unique to Israel, it does place the country last among the 18 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) it studied in its policy index for food rescue and food waste reduction.
“Israel has implemented the fewest number of policy tools to eradicate this phenomenon,” says the report.
“There are no government goals, there’s no leadership, and there are not too many organizations around [in Israel] that rescue food,” says Kroch.
“I think it’s not among the government’s priorities; they probably don’t see the benefits of it,” he says, adding that this includes the current and previous governments.
Despite the fact that Leket Israel has already presented several reports on the subject to the government, with no success in changing its approach, the charity hopes that the incoming government – expected to be formed next week – will address the issue.
“I’m hoping that the new government will take this into consideration, and change its priorities,” says Kroch.
Herzog notes that at least some of the parties expected to be in the incoming government have already declared their concerns about the cost of living and about reducing poverty.
“I think this is part of the agenda of the new government, and I hope that they will take measures to incorporate food rescue within the policy to reduce poverty,” he says.
Kroch points out that this year, Leket has included both Harvard and the Global Foodbanking Network in its report, in an attempt to reinforce its credibility and better attract the government’s attention.
“Perhaps because Harvard is backing this up, it will help to persuade the government, since there are international organizations that are looking at what Israel is doing,” he says.
In these critical times, Kroch believes that this issue should be addressed by the Prime Minister’s Office as it is a cross-ministry task.
“It should involve the ministries of Agriculture, Economy, Health, Education, and Finance, among others,” he says. “The only one that can bring all these ministries to the table is the Prime Minister’s Office.”