National

Planned online system will link food banks with manufacturers, retailers

Kyodo

The farm ministry will launch an online system in fiscal 2020 to link food banks with food donors to support needy people and families while cutting food waste, officials said Saturday.

Under the envisaged system, food manufacturers and retailers input information such as type, quantity and the delivery time of leftover foods they can provide, while food bank operators and welfare facilities enter the details of foods they need, the officials said.

The system will make it easier for donors and recipients to connect based on the information gathered.

“Many companies hesitate to donate food out of concern that they might be diverted into other channels,” said a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official.

The new system “can help such companies get information such as recipients and the amount of food they need, making them feel secure about donating food,” the official said.

Initially, the ministry is considering running the system in each of the country’s 47 prefectures.

The number of groups operating food banks around the country jumped to 105 in 2019 from just 12 in fiscal 2008. This compares with more than 200 in the United States, where the food bank system began in 1967.

Major companies such as convenience store operator Lawson Inc. and fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan Ltd. have started providing leftover food to those in need through such food banks.

But the effect on reducing food waste across the country has been marginal.

The quantity of food utilized by food banks is around 4,000 tons a year. But, according to Environment Ministry data, a total of 6.43 million tons of food — or 51 kilograms per citizen — went to waste in Japan in fiscal 2016, roughly the same level of annual rice consumption in the country.

Of the 6.43 million tons, 55 percent was generated by the business sector, which adheres to strict time limits for selling their products to meet consumer demand for fresh food.

Such sales policies have been criticized as being at the root of the problem of mass food waste.

Last May, the Diet passed legislation to promote the reduction of food waste after images showing a huge amount of discarded seasonal sushi rolls, which went viral on social media, thrust the issue into the spotlight.

A recent survey by the nonprofit organization Good Neighbors Japan showed that 83 percent of 183 single parents in Tokyo said food banks had improved their diet.

“The reality is that the amount of food being donated is overwhelmingly smaller than what is needed,” said an organization dedicated to promoting food banks nationwide.

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