New Program Aims to Curb $5 Billion of Food Wasted Annually in Israel

On a global basis, it is estimated that 35 percent of all food is wasted at some point along the supply chain, from the farm to the consumer's home.

Tomer Appelbaum

The Agriculture Ministry has developed a program to help stem the estimated 18 billion shekels ($5 billion) of food that is wasted annually.

This estimate includes losses on the farm, in packing houses, at retail establishments and at the homes of consumers. The focus of the ministry’s plan is to curb food waste on the farm and at food retailers.

It calls for the ministry to fund the harvesting of particular fruits and vegetables that farmers don't harvest because of the low prices they get for the produce. The food harvested through the program will be provided to needy families.

The ministry will also encourage the use of packaging that extends the shelf life of fresh produce at the supermarket. The plan will also encourage the sale – at reduced prices – of fruits and vegetables that may not look perfect but that are still edible.

On a global basis, it is estimated that 35 percent of all food is wasted at some point along the supply chain, from the farm to the consumer’s home.

A study conducted at the end of last year in Israel by the non-profit food rescue organization Leket Israel and the BDO consulting firm found that 18 billion shekels is the worth of the food that is wasted in the country annually. That’s the equivalent of 1.6 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product.

Fourteen percent of the food wasted is on the farm. Another 7 percent is lost in packing; 8 percent in industrial processing; and the balance – 71 percent - at various stages of distribution, sale and household consumption. In the course of distribution and retail sale of the food alone, 13.7 billion shekels worth of food is lost annually, the study found.

84 kilos of food a month per household

Interestingly, the magnitude of the problem in Israel – on a per capita basis – is lower than in the United States, but not in a uniform manner. The rate of food waste is greater in Israel in the middle stages – distribution and retailing, but lower than the United States on the farm and at the stage in which the food reaches the consumer’s home. In other words, Israeli farmers and consumers waste less than their American counterparts. Nevertheless, the average Israeli household wastes 84 kilograms (almost 185 pounds) of food a month, worth on average about 616 shekels.

The Leket Israel-BDO study projected that it is possible to eliminate about half of the volume of food wasted in Israel. That would be accomplished by steps that include harvesting crops that are currently not picked, consumption of bruised and other produce that is not sold by food retailers and leftover food at food processors, restaurants and hotels. It would also be done by encouraging the consumption of food that is nearing its expiration date and is not expected to be sold.

“Food loss is a substantial problem not only [elsewhere] in the world but also in Israel," said Uri Tzuk-Bar, the deputy director general for research, economics and strategy at the Agriculture Ministry.

"About 18 percent of the population is facing moderate to severe food insecurity and if we are able to help weaker populations receive fresh, healthy food, it’s our moral obligation to do so while at the same time enhancing the ability of farmers to make a respectable living and without disrupting market forces.”

Food waste is a problem with wide-ranging economic, social and environmental consequences and a major component in the cost of living. According to the Agriculture Ministry, Israel wastes more food than the global average, with the country throwing away fully half of the fruits and vegetables meant for consumption.

The average Israeli family throws away 4,200 shekels worth of food a year by failing to correctly estimate what will be consumed, the Agriculture Ministry said. In addition to the practical steps in the Agriculture Ministry’s program, the plan calls for a consumer education campaign to encourage less food to be wasted and to educate the public about optimal food storage practices.

The ministry is also encouraging the development of technology to extend food shelf life, such as food packaging that maintains optimal humidity and methods to delay the ripening of produce.

Tzuk-Bar, the deputy director general of the ministry, noted that the Israeli population will increase by 1.5 million in the next decade.

“We need to ensure a fresh supply of food to all of these additional mouths,” he said. “If we undertake now to find a solution to the problem of food wastage both at the supermarket and in households, we will be prepared for future challenges [and] can take efficient advantage of the limited resources at our disposal.”