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New Study Shows More Than 35 Million Tonnes of Food Produced in Canada Lost or Wasted Annually

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Canadians continue to waste staggeringly high amounts of food that could instead feed those in need, according to a new report from a prominent food rescue organization.

In January, Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International released the Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste report. It found that 58 per cent of food produced in this country, about 35.5 million tonnes, is lost or wasted each year.

Of that, more than 11 million tonnes is edible food that didn’t need to be tossed out and could be used to feed the hungry, the report concluded.

The new study came out just weeks after The Mississauga News and Brampton Guardian produced a four-part series that explored the issue of food waste, its impact, the scope of the problem and what’s being done to address it.

In 2017, the Mississauga Food Bank distributed 770,000 kilograms of food through its network. Of that, 18 per cent was rescued food that otherwise would have gone in the garbage.

Executive director Meghan Nicholls said the report was the most in-depth she has read on the issue. Second Harvest says it’s the first of its kind to use front-line data from the whole food supply chain to reach its conclusions.

What jumped out to Nicholls when she read the report was how it found that one of the root causes of food loss and waste in this country is an accepting culture. She says a fundamental shift is required to change the way we think.

“There’s an incredible percentage of waste that exists (in the chain),” she said. “It’s unreal to me.”

The report also says that conservative date codes are one of the main contributors to food waste. Researchers found several examples of “businesses purposely setting overly conservative best-before dates as a means to drive sales” that results in loss and waste.

As well, businesses could be reluctant to donate food that’s near or past its best-before date, it found.

Nicholls said the section on why businesses might be leery to donate — which includes reasons such as concerns about possible legal liability despite the Good Samaritan Act providing protections as well as several others — was something she flagged for further discussion with her leadership group as they look to expand their food rescue operation.

Ted Brown, executive director of Brampton’s Regeneration Outreach Community that provides roughly 56,000 free meals each year, says they often encounter businesses that are worried about legal liability and opt not to donate still-edible product headed for the garbage.

“For it to end up in the garbage is a shame when we have a growing number of people in need here in Canada,” he said.

Meanwhile, the report found that the dollar value of the avoidable food loss and waste is $49.5 billion, which is enough to feed every person in Canada for almost five months.

The report also lays out possible solutions — such as starting to measure food loss and waste, setting reduction targets and establishing clear rules around donation — that can be undertaken by government, business, food rescue organizations and the industry to tackle the problem.

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