25% of food in Israel goes to waste

Leket volunteers  photo: PR

Caterers, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and others are more than willing to give surplus food to those who need it, but they want legal protection.

The most recent report on poverty by the National Insurance Institute (NII) again revealed an alarming picture: over 463,000 families - two million people, including 850,000 children - are living in poverty in Israel. This gives Israel the dubious honor of having the highest poverty rate in the OECD. Another survey by the NII shows that almost 20% of Israel's population lacks nutritional security, and almost half of these people suffer from "substantial nutritional insecurity." The people described by this statistic live daily in harsh circumstances difficult for the heart and mind to accept: a hungry child standing in front of an empty refrigerator, a parent unable to provide a hot meal, an old person hesitating whether to buy medicine or bread. If they were to tell those hungry children that a hot meal they could have had was being thrown into the garbage every day, that dozens or hundreds of such meals were being thrown away, how would they feel?

This is exactly what is happening every day. 25% of the food prepared in restaurants, event halls, enterprise dining rooms, military bases, supermarket chains, and hotels is being thrown away. In our modern affluent society, there is no need to ask why more is produced than consumed. The real question is why surplus food is not being donated to those who really need it.

The main reason that most of these institutions throw away their leftover food instead of donating it is 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. Even when the organization through which the food is transferred gives the supplier a written undertaking absolving the supplier of any legal liability, fear takes over, and the supplier refrains from donating.

Today, in addition to exposure to liability for compensatory damages in civil suits, someone who donates food is also exposed to criminal responsibility. In such a situation, it is difficult to find "courageous" people who will take the risk of donating food. "There is a hospital in Israel with thousands of employees that wanted to donate hundreds of portions thrown away every day," says Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, which sends surplus food to needy families. "All of the management levels in that hospital wanted to do this, but at the last moment, somebody remembered that it had to be approved by the legal department, which stopped it. Several government companies have also expressed a desire to do this, but withdrew when they realized the legal risk."

Exemption from criminal responsibility

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 was initiated by Leket Israel. Maklev and Gafni adopted the proposal and are sponsoring the current bill. 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. This bill, which is another version of similar bills previously submitted to the Knesset, also gives the same protection to the organizations if they observe the rules for transporting, storing, and distributing the food.

The bill also states that the NGOs will have to provide insurance for the volunteers collecting, organizing, and distributing the food donations. The insurance will be compulsory, similar to compulsory auto insurance, and will prevent the donors, NGOs, and volunteers from being exposed to civil suits and criminal proceedings, or at least as the result of direct action, if the volunteers are insured.

Less comfortable, but quieter

In the current legal situation, businesses working with food prefer to throw away their surplus food. Ronen Levy, co-owner of Ray, a Tel Aviv event location, who has over 20 years of experience in staging events, describes the scale of the food being thrown away. "An average event hall prepares 15-20% more portions than the number ordered, because you never know what portion each guest will choose. These portions are thrown away. All of the food has been cooked, and under Ministry of Health regulations may not be recycled. This is a good thing, but the quality of this food is usually good, and can certainly be donated to the needy.

"Think about how crazy this is: 15-20% times the number of active event halls every day (events in hotels, event halls, etc.) - this is backup food that sometimes has not been cooked or prepared - and we throw all of it into the garbage."

According to Levy, if passed, the bill will reduce destruction of food. "We obviously prefer feeding people, not garbage cans. A huge quantity of food that people could benefit from is being thrown away. The bill is needed in order to stop this from happening. It is unquestionably essential and good," he says. "If you remove my responsibility as soon as the food leaves me, I can have peace of mind. I can donate wholeheartedly. If I donate now, I don't have peace of mind, because there's a process of transporting and storing the food that is not subject to my control, so it's possible for something to happen to a steak or portion of chicken that left me in excellent condition, and which 400 people just ate and enjoyed, after which it reaches a needy person who eats it. That shouldn't be my responsibility.

"Up until now, we haven't taken the risk of being sued. We have enough headaches with customers, insane bureaucracy, and regulations for event halls being issued every week. We don't want more headaches. If this matter is not sorted out, we'll go on throwing away food. Although we don't feel comfortable about doing it, at least we don't have to worry that way."

Levy is not worried, but he is frustrated. Looking at the figures for poverty and hunger is painful for him. He explains, "An average event hall prepares something like 70,000 food portions a year. 20% of that (14,000 portions) are surplus portions that are thrown away. This is the number of hungry people that one hall could feed from its surplus, even without the hotels and other places that also throw surpluses away. There's no logical reason that this bill shouldn't pass. It makes no sense to us, like many things in the country that make no sense, but this is really concrete. It's part of our daily routine, and it's painful to see it."

"This ridiculous situation will be eliminated"

Israel Hotel Association president Amir Hayek also expresses 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."

According to Hayek, the bill has to pass. "If we think pure thoughts, and don't think that half of Israel wants to cheat the other half, then there's a great opportunity here to give excellent help to the needy. The bill by MKs Gafni and Maklev, both of whom are known for their creativity and altruism, can contribute in the best area - helping the needy.

"I have no doubt that if this bill passes, it will encourage many good people to donate and send their food surpluses to the needy."

The bill is creating solidarity between different socioeconomic groups, and is good for taxpayers, whose money pays for the food being thrown away (for example, in government companies, hospitals, and other public institutions. It even reflects values of sustainability, and identification with the biblical commandments "do not destroy" and leaving the gleanings of fields for orphans and widows.

With all that, the bill is not free of problems. "The most prominent difficult is that someone making a donation, in good faith, is also exempted for liability for negligence. That is giving a license for negligence that harms people who are entitled to protection," says Adv. Ilan Kaner from the Kaner-Bastaker law firm, who specializes in tort law. "Usually, the concept of 'good faith' is not part of tort law. In torts, a person can be regarded as negligent even if he acted in good faith. According to the proposed bill, however, if I donated food in good faith and wholeheartedly, but committed negligence by not checking what I donated, and it turns out that I donated spoiled food that caused damage, I'm protected. In other words, good faith is enough to clear me of liability for negligent behavior."

The Ministry of Justice previously expressed the same opposition when it stated, apropos the 2015 State Comptroller's report, that it "opposes in principle giving exemption against criminal responsibility or civil liability to certain sectors" (such as the food donating sector), and that exempt food donations are liable to cause damage among the needy to whom the food is given. The Ministry of Justice's view at the time was that a donation given in compliance with the rules and regulations would safeguard the health of the needy, and that the donors would be protected against criminal responsibility even without the amendment.

As the Ministry of Justice sees it, the right thing to do is to find other efficient uses for leftover food, for example setting guidelines and rules in cooperation with food industry professionals for the actions of food donation groups. These proposals are exactly what the donors are afraid of. "Excessive regulation frightens the hoteliers," Hayek says. "They are worried that a regulator will say tomorrow, 'They want to donate? Excellent, so let's obligate the donors to check the quality of the food.' If there are too many  rules and regulations, no one will donate."

What are other countries doing about this problem? A number of Western countries have passed legislation exempting food donors from criminal and civil liability if the food harms people, but only on condition that the donor acted in good faith. For example, the US has state and federal laws stating that food donors will not bear civil or criminal responsibility for their donations, except in cases of deliberate inappropriate and negligent conduct, and provided that the food met all legal standards. Similar legislation can be found in Australian, Canadian, and Italian law.

"The law has existed for 20 years in the US. We're used to laughing about people filing nonsensical lawsuits in the US, but there has never been a lawsuit there under one of the state or federal laws," Kroch says. According to him, the Ministry of Justice's opposition is delaying a worthy bill. "When I joined the organization 10 years ago, there were already discussions with the Ministry of Justice, which said that it agreed to the elimination of criminal responsibility, but not civil liability, and wanted us to "solve it with an insurance company that will insure the organization, so that there will be a deep pocket, and it will not be necessary to change the law.' Now they say that this insurance isn't enough, and it appears that the Ministry of Justice is completely opposed to the bill."

Prof. Yuval Elbashan, who was deputy director of the Yedid organization until 2013 and managed its rights centers in the outlying areas, explains how much the risk of a lawsuit and criminal responsibility really affects donors. "The bill is very important," he says, and will reduce the number of cases in which legal advice prevented an important donation of high-quality food from catering companies.

Elbashan, who is confident that the bill will solve the problem, criticizes the Ministry of Justice for its opposition. "I regret that legal authorities in the past, including the Ministry of Justice, elected to repeatedly thwart similar bills and served the benefit of those with an interest in keeping food expensive and preserving high demand (even for poor people who have difficulty paying).

"They used many creative excuses - for example, that it is important to protect the public's right to sue, thereby exposing their distorted system of values, in which the right not to die from starvation is less important than the right to sue, and in which a lawyer's fees are more important that the hungry face of a small child."

Kroch is not sure that this is the interest motivating the Ministry of Justice, but it is unclear why the ministry is steadfast in opposition. "The food is already cooked, not bought, and would have been put in the garbage in any case, not bought by people with significant purchasing power. The people who receive these donations rely on government welfare payments, packages from NGOs, and help from relatives and friends. I don't understand what the Ministry of Justice's interest is. It has no interest in protecting private food manufacturers, but despite our efforts to find out, we failed to understand what exactly is making the ministry totally oppose the bill."

The Ministry of Justice will not oppose the new version of the bill

Ministry of Justice sources said that the ministry previously opposed the original version of the bill, which sought to exempt food distribution organizations from liability if the food was spoiled due to negligence - in other words, if the organization behaved unreasonably in preserving or handling food. In the case of food, the potential damage is bodily damage, which the law regards as severe damage. Despite the bill's good intentions, the Ministry of Justice therefore saw problems in adopting an exemption from liability for damage. The Ministry of Justice's attitude stems from the moral position that economically disadvantaged people are not deserving of less health than well-off people. A poor person is not worth less. Maklev recently reached understandings with the Ministry of Justice in which the obligation for insurance would be canceled and the exemption from liability for damages and criminal responsibility would be qualified, so that it would not apply in cases in which the law was violated or negligence was committed. The ministerial legislative committee approved government support for the bill, subject to the Ministry of Justice's consent to this arrangement. It appears that the Ministry of Justice will now express no opposition to the new version of the bill.

The Ministry of Justice said in response, "The ministerial legislative committee approved government support for the bill, with the consent of the bill's sponsors, subject to the insurance obligation being canceled and the exemption from liability for damages and criminal responsibility being qualified, so that it does not apply to cases in which the law is violated or negligence is committed, and subject to coordination of the legislative process with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health."

Leket Israel: Food worth NIS 19.5 billion is thrown away annually

Leket Israel, a 15 year-old organization, is behind the bill for saving food. The growing need for food among a significant proportion of the population on the one hand, and the loss of large food surpluses on the other, led Joseph Gilter to found Leket Israel in 2003. Leket specializes in saving surplus food in Israel, and delivers tens of thousands of tons of food annually to needy people. 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.

The report states that saving food is highly worthwhile from an economic, social, and environmental (also an educational and moral) standpoint. One shekel invested in saving food makes it possible to save food with a direct value of NIS 6.30. When the environmental effects are added, one shekel invested in saving food creates NIS 7.20 in economic value.

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on February 1, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

Leket volunteers  photo: PR
Leket volunteers photo: PR
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