International agreement heralds new dawn for food waste practices

Government partners with retailers and European Union to bring about change in food waste reduction

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In a bid to adhere to the United Nation’s sustainable development goal to halve global food waste by 2030, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) have launched the South African food loss and waste voluntary agreement committing food manufacturers and retailers to waste reduction efforts.

The agreement coincided with the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste observed yesterday.

Current estimates show that 10 million tonnes of local agricultural production in the country is wasted each year. This is equivalent to an estimated R60 billion a year or about 2% of GDP, estimates CGCSA.

The agreement is the culmination of a partnership five years in the making between the department of trade, industry and competition (DTIC) and the department of environment, forestry and fisheries and it’s co-funded by the European Union through the SA-EU Dialogue Facility.

Barbara Creecy, the minister of fisheries, forestry and the environment. Picture: Supplied

It commits CGCSA food manufacturing and retail members to implement measures to minimise and reduce food waste in the country.

Minister of environment, forestry and fisheries Barbara Creecy has welcomed the initiative and its potential to foster sustainable patterns in the country. Speaking at the virtual event, Creecy noted that water scarcity, land degradation and burgeoning food and packaging waste are some of the major environmental problems of our time.

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She says that more responsible consumption of agricultural produce will assist to promote both food security and more sustainable agricultural practice.

“Organic waste is a major component in any landfill and all efforts to divert this waste through ensuring better use of food products is a significant contribution to our joint efforts to promote resource efficiency,” Creecy elaborates.

Her remarks were echoed by Dr Bernard Rey, minister counsellor and head of cooperation at the EU delegation who says, “The South African and European Union’s Strategic Partnership supports South African efforts to combat the global food waste crisis. Through international insights and expertise, collaborative dialogue and grassroots research, this dialogue series has evolved into the successful launch of a multi-sectoral voluntary agreement on managing food waste in South Africa from farm to fork.”

He commends strides and targets reached in the partnership thus far. “It has been a privilege to work across the private and public sectors in South Africa and hold the space, through engaging dialogue, for a truly collaborative vision towards this global cause.”

‘We cannot idle while millions starve’

The food waste initiative is the culmination of efforts made since 2015 when the DTIC approached the CGCSA’s members signed a voluntary agreement on food waste in line with both the UN and another commitment by the consumer goods forum (CGF) to reduce by half global food waste by 2025.

Executive of the CGCSA food safety initiative, Matlou Setati. Picture: Supplied

In a country where an estimated 14 million people go to bed hungry every night, this “is a monumental unnecessary waste which cannot be allowed to continue,” says, executive of the CGCSA food safety initiative, Matlou Setati.

“Together with the DTIC we submitted a proposal for funding from the EU for a study tour in Europe to engage with other organisations which have implemented similar programmes to reduce food waste and share best practices for implementation and trial in South Africa,” she says.

Setati adds, “The funding had a research component to evaluate the current status of food waste in South Africa and come up with levels of food currently wasted, in order to allow the industry and government to set informed reduction goals.”

Co-chair of the CGCSA Gareth Ackerman adds that through developing the voluntary food loss and waste agreement the CGCSA “is making a bold call to South African food manufacturers, distributors and retailers to commit themselves to prevent and reduce food waste.”

Gareth Ackerman, co-chair of the CGCSA. Picture: Supplied

Retailers sell approximately 80% of food consumed in the country and occupy a critical point in the agricultural value chain.

Ackerman says it is not only morally wrong but also heart-breaking that millions of tonnes of food are thrown away, yet the food is perfectly safe for human consumption. “Ultimately, the CGCSA is advocating for legislation to make it possible for surplus food, which is still safe for human consumption, is donated to the needy as part of national goals to avert food insecurity in South Africa.”

“I am glad to say we have received overwhelming support from our members, among them Massmart, Danone, Tiger Brands, Pick n Pay, Woolworths and Shoprite, who have already pledged to support this important initiative. Many more members are signing up because they believe it is the right thing to do. Today’s launch will be the start of an irreversible commitment to ensure that our members become the catalyst for action to address food waste and food insecurity in South Africa,” Ackerman affirms.

Thembelihle Ndukwana, director for agro-processing in the DTIC, says, “With the financial assistance from the SA-EU Dialogue facility, we have made strides in crafting a voluntary agreement which will be entered into by the signatories today.

“We appreciate the willingness of these companies to partner with government in ensuring that food waste is reduced with the aim to eliminate food waste in the near future. This is one of the efforts by South Africa to transition to a sustainable consumption and production and achieve healthy sustainable food systems.”

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