Billions in Food Wasted Yearly in Israel, Says State Comptroller

Report says government should do more to ensure surpluses go to poor.

David Bachar

Israel lets tens of billions of shekels of food go to waste every year even though many Israelis suffer from food insecurity, the state comptroller said in a report released yesterday.

The report faulted officials for taking so little interest in the problem that no data are collected about how much food is destroyed or goes bad.

However, it said that based on nationwide food spending in 2012 of about 88 billion shekels ($22.7 billion at current exchange rates) and global estimates that between 30% and 50% of all food goes to waste, Israel is probably destroying about 25 billion shekels in food every year, most of it needlessly.

“Food loss is a worldwide problem, which has a wide-ranging impact on society, the environment and the economy. In Israel, which suffers a constant shortage of resources, high rates of poverty and food insecurity and huge landfills relative to developed countries, addressing the problem would lead to significant change,” said the report, which covered a wide range of government failures.

Among other things, the state comptroller found that the Agriculture Ministry has no policy to reduce surplus crops. Neither the ministry nor the growers’ councils follow policies for destroying surplus crops, which means thousands of tons of fruits and vegetables are needlessly destroyed every year.

The report said much of the food being destroyed in the name of keeping food supply in balance with demand could be used to help poor families – a claim the nonprofit organization Latet, which provides food packages for the poor, agreed with.

“In Israel about 1.4 billion shekels worth of food is destroyed by the food industry,” Latet’s director, Eran Weintrob, said yesterday. “Setting up a national initiative for food security as we have been demanding for the past 10 years, using nothing more than existing resources, would save food worth hundreds of millions of shekels and help tens of thousands of families.”

The comptroller’s report estimated that 1%-2% of all fresh produce is needlessly destroyed every day due to the intervention of kashrut supervisors. Further, the Health Ministry’s failure to enforce rules for sell-by dates on food and confusing terminology on packages encourages consumers to throw away food that is still fit for consumption, it said.

“Many products sold in retail chains aren’t marked in accordance with Israeli standards and consumers don’t always understand correctly the significance of the date,” the report said, citing terminology such as “For use by,” “Best to use before” and “To be sold by.”

The Agriculture Ministry, in response, said it didn’t interfere in what it called a “free market” for food apart from supplying wholesale price information. But it did admit that food was being destroyed against the terms of the law.

“The ministry concedes there was a specific problem and lack of clarity in regard to a [growers’] council cited [in the report] and that a few years ago there were isolated instances of food being destroyed without permission of the minister as required by law,” it said, saying it couldn’t intervene when farmers themselves, at their own initiative, destroyed harvests.