Reducing food loss calls for rethink of excessive focus on freshness

The Yomiuri Shimbun Food loss — discarding products that are still edible — is a loss to society as a whole. To reduce food waste, it is indispensable for both corporations and consumers to change their mental attitude on the matter.

Food loss in this country, due to unsold, returned, leftover and other goods, is estimated at 6.2 million tons annually. The figure adds up to one bowl of food thrown away per person every day.

In one respect, food loss is a waste of precious resources, and it strains corporate management. As relevant costs run up, retail prices could rise.

One major factor behind food loss is the existence of the “one-third rule,” a commercial practice involving processed foods.

The rule does not allow manufacturers and wholesalers to deliver products to retail stores if these goods have passed one-third of the period that extend from their production to their best-before dates. This standard means that products still fit to eat are compulsorily discarded. On the sales floor, too, products are removed if they are within a certain period up to their best-before dates.

Explaining the reason for these moves, retailers cite consumers’ desire for freshness. However, what is required of the industry, first and foremost, is to spread appropriate knowledge about products.

The best-before date differs from the consume-by date, which is labeled on perishable goods. The former represents the period of time during which foods can be best enjoyed — not a date by which such products must be immediately discarded.

In the past few years, some major retail store chains and others have started reconsidering the one-third rule. Their move, which covers highly preservable confectionery and beverages, is aimed at extending their deliver-by dates to one-half of the period up to their best-before dates.

Let’s all do our part

There have been some reports about good results of the move, such as reductions in the quantities of goods returned from wholesalers to manufacturers or disposed of.

Last May, two government ministries — the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry — asked the industry to relax the one-third rule, given that the regulation is strict compared to similar limits imposed overseas. However, such a change has yet to permeate the industry. Efforts should be accelerated in this respect, including an expansion in the scope of items subject to the change.

Manufacturers should endeavor to address the issue, too. Tasks facing them include devising appropriate production plans that closely weigh supply and demand, as well as extending the best-before dates through the use of more highly functional containers.

There are moves to switch from the best-before date, an indication that uses an exact date, to labeling that employs a year and month. This may help promote a change in mental attitudes adopted by the industry and consumers to seek goods that are even one day newer.

The problem involved in eating out is that a huge amount of food is left over. Local governments in various places have started calling on people to be seated and eat during the first 30 minutes and the last 10 minutes of parties. It is said that the move has had a considerable impact in reducing the amount of garbage.

The reality is that close to half of food loss is attributable to households.

It is hoped that each one of us will try, at least, to behave as a consumer seeking to decrease the amount of food that goes uneaten and ends up discarded.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 9, 2018)Speech


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