Author: Global FoodBanking Network
Of all the food produced in the world, nearly one-third is lost or wasted. About 14 percent of food is lost between harvest and retail due to surplus, cosmetic blemishes, and inadequate storage or transportation, and another 17 percent of total food production is wasted in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes.
Food loss and waste erodes food security, decreases food availability, and contributes to higher food prices. It also causes economic losses at every step of the supply chain as the resources used to produce food—water, land, energy, and capital—are squandered when that food is lost or wasted.
Additionally, food loss and waste pose a threat to our planet. As lost and wasted food decomposes, it contributes 8 to 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases—ultimately intensifying climate change and causing further fractures in our food system. Recently, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed China’s cooperation initiative for global food security, with one of the key points focusing on reducing food loss and waste.
Food donation offers a solution
Food banks around the world receive donations of safe, surplus food from across the supply chain, from farmers, distributors, grocers, and the food service industry. And then they redirect that food, which would otherwise be lost or wasted, to communities, decreasing food waste and ultimately helping to mitigate climate change. Furthermore, by prioritizing this innovation in tandem with hunger alleviation, food banks help advance progress on important global goals, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3, which aims to halve per capita global food waste and reduce food losses by 2030.
Last year alone, members of The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), the most geographically diverse network of food banks in the world, recovered nearly 690 million kilograms of surplus food, distributed it to 40 million people, and prevented 1.694 billion kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions.
GFN partner Green Food Bank, based in Shanghai, works with China-based companies throughout the supply chain to collect usable surplus products that would otherwise be wasted. They then distribute these products to families via an established network of community agencies.
In 2021, Walmart China took the initiative to contact Green Food Bank regarding a partnership around surplus product collection. The partnership was further extended and deepened in April 2022 with the launch of the Walmart China’s Community Food Bank. As of October 2022, the program is run through 81 hypermarkets and 17 Sam's Clubs in eight cities and has established 44 authorized partner distribution points. The food is picked up from the stores and food bank staff or volunteers from the community agencies handle transportation and distribution. As of the end of September, 150,000 surplus food items had been donated. The total value of the donations was close to RMB 3.78 million, which is equivalent to the reduction of approximately 570 tons of carbon emissions.
Good food donation policies reduce food loss and waste
But in many countries, vague or nonexistent food donation laws and policies hinder food donation and the work of food banks. In 2019, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) partnered to address the issue, by creating The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas, the first collaborative research project to examine the state of worldwide food donation laws and policies. The Atlas was made possible through funding by the Walmart Foundation.
“One of the challenges is confusion over the laws that regulate food and their application to food donation,” said Emily Broad Leib, director and founder of FLPC. “Often, food donation is not even mentioned in laws, so businesses and food banks have a lot of questions as they try to figure out what is allowed when they have surplus food that could be donated.”
The Atlas examines food donation laws in over 20 countries, providing country-specific policy recommendations for strengthening food recovery efforts. It points to several policy areas that could support national food loss and waste reduction, including:
- Strengthened tax incentives and reduced barriers to food donation
- Date labeling that clearly distinguishes between quality and safety
- Liability protection for food donors and food recovery organizations
- Standards for food safety specific to food donation
- Food waste bans or requirements to donate surplus food
- Government grants and incentives to support food recovery efforts
The work of the Atlas also includes country-specific recommendations to build strong food donation laws and policies. For example, in Australia 7.6 million tons of food are wasted annually, costing AUD$36.6 billion. An Atlas report recommended that, among other things, the Australian government and its relevant departments and agencies promote consumer education and awareness on the meaning of date labels in partnership with the private sector.
Food date labels are a key driver of food waste and a significant obstacle to food donation. Generally intended to reflect how long the manufacturer believes the food will maintain its peak quality and flavor, food date labels are mistakenly interpreted as safety indicators. Because of this confusion, potential food donors mistakenly throw away safe, surplus food when a food item reaches the date on its label, or this food is refused by food recovery organizations, leading to more food waste.
“Ambiguous food date labels contribute to the estimated 17 percent of total food production that is wasted in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes worldwide,” said Douglas O’Brien, GFN’s vice president of programs. “Clear, well-publicized date labeling policies would support food retailers in reducing food waste and help food banks connect more safe, surplus food to people facing hunger.”
In Kenya, 40 percent of food produced–worth about USD$655 million–is wasted each year. One recommendation from the Atlas in this instance was enacting national legislation that establishes clear and comprehensive liability protection for food donors and food recovery organizations. Many food donors do not donate safe, surplus food out of fear that they will incur legal liability after donation. Too often, this leads to wholesome, safe food being discarded unnecessarily, when instead it could be donated.
When enacted, clear date labeling, liability protection, and other best practices encourage food donation from businesses. This adds to other reasons businesses donate products to food banks—like reducing the costs of disposing surplus food, furthering corporate social responsibility goals, strengthening brand loyalty, and building on global reputation.
In China, several food donation policies have been enacted to date, including the Anti-Food Waste Law, the Food Conservation Action Plan, and Announcement No. 27  of the Ministry of Finance, the State Taxation Administration, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs on Matters Concerning Pre-Tax Deduction of Charitable Donations.
Everyone has a role to play when it comes to improving food systems. We hope you join us in supporting food banking, an efficient and effective way to reduce food loss and waste and distribute healthy food to communities.
The article was provided excusively to the WFSCC by the Global FoodBanking Network
 Surplus Food Donation Program Phase Report by Walmart China, July 2021 - October 2022