February 5, 2018

Israel Turns to Foodservice and Supermarkets to Address Growing Poverty

Tel Aviv…With a thriving economy and increasingly becoming a world economic power, Israel is also faced with a dark secret. According to the National Insurance Institute (NII) over 463,000 families - two million people, including 850,000 children - are living in poverty in Israel. Almost 20% of Israel's population lacks nutritional security, and almost half of these people suffer from "substantial nutritional insecurity." On the flip side, say the experts, 25% of the food prepared in restaurants, event halls, enterprise dining rooms, military bases, supermarket chains, and hotels is being thrown away. The main reason that most of these institutions throw away their leftover food instead of donating, according to the highly influential Globes magazine, is a concern about lawsuits by the people receiving it. By law, manufacturers bear responsibility for food as soon as it leaves them if it is spoilt as a result of faulty handling that damages the health of a person who consumed it. This problem has not escaped the attention of the food organizations and the legislators.

A bill introduced by representatives of the Ministry of Justice, members of the Knesset Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee, and MKs Uri Maklev and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), who proposed the bill, seeks to solve the problem, to the benefit of both the donors and the needy. The bill's main aim is to encourage the donation of food that will otherwise be thrown away by exempting a person donating food in good faith to a non-profit organization (NGO) that distributes food from criminal responsibility and legal damages. Israel Hotel Association president Amir Hayek expressed pain about throwing away food that could have reached needy people. "Enormous quantities of food are thrown away and destroyed in Israel. It happens in event halls, hotels, and food enterprises. A great many hoteliers work with NGOs that promise to keep the food and send it on in acceptable condition, and then they are willing to donate. That's all right, but there are others who don't do this. They're afraid." Leket Israel, a 15 year-old organization, is behind the bill for saving food. At present, Leket is the only organization in Israel whose sole business is saving food for those who need it. The organization collects surplus food every day: fruit and vegetables donated by farmers; cooked meals from hotels, event halls, IDF bases; and so forth.

Leket delivers the food to 175,000 people a week through 195 organizations all over Israel. The organization collects 2.5 million cooked meals and 15,000 tons of agricultural produce a year. In its Second National Food Waste and Rescue in Israel report, published in cooperation with BDO Ziv Haft Consulting Group, Leket estimated the annual loss of food in Israel at 2.4 million tons having a value of NIS 19.5 billion - 33% of local food production in Israel. Half of this food is savable and edible.