OPINIONS Observer: Why China launched an anti-food waste campaign


Observer: Why China launched an anti-food waste campaign

By Zhu Yurou | People's Daily app

13:46, August 15, 2020


Recently, China issued important instructions to stop food waste, called for promoting thrift and emphasized effective measures to establish a long-term mechanism to resolutely stop food waste.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said China's food waste problem was "shocking and distressing" and despite several years of bumper harvests the country needed to "maintain a sense of crisis about food security, especially amid the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Following Xi's instruction, the Wuhan Catering Industry Association urged restaurants in the city to limit the number of dishes served to diners - implementing a system where groups must order one dish less than the number of diners. Chinese state agency CCTV also called out livestreamers who typically film themselves eating large amounts of food.

China's anti-food waste campaign sparked speculation by some media that China may be facing a food crisis. Experts say the world indeed faces a food shortage, but for China, the real threat to food security comes more from food wastage than epidemics or floods.

In the medium and long term, China's grain production and demand will remain in a "tight balance,” and the country cannot relax for a moment while ensuring national food security, China's discipline inspection and supervisory authorities said.

President Xi has always advocated being "strictly frugal and opposing waste." As early as 2013, he gave instructions on the issue, emphasizing that "the wind of waste must be stopped."

Many people no longer feel the need to save food. One of the important reasons for this is that China has an adequate food supply. According to China's National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration reports, in terms of grain production, by 2019, China had achieved a historic "16 consecutive year harvest,” with grain output reaching more than 650 billion kilograms for five consecutive years.

In the face of the COVID-19 epidemic and the floods and droughts that followed, China achieved another bumper summer grain harvest this year, with output reaching a record high of 285.6 billion tons, a year-on-year increase of 0.9 percent. This has once again boosted confidence and strengthened the "Chinese rice bowl.”

In the context of bumper harvests in successive years, some undesirable trends emerged, such as "ostentatious eating" and "extravagant hospitality.”

According to a joint report released by the WWF and Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2018, restaurants and canteens in China wasted an estimated 18 million tonnes of food a year - about 3 percent of the country's total food production. The per capita food waste rate in China's catering industry reached 11.7 percent. The report said the waste was enough to feed up to 50 million people.

With the acceleration of urbanization, a large number of working-age laborers have left the countryside to work in cities, and the number of farmers willing to engage in agricultural production has decreased year by year. "Who will till the land?" is still a common concern. 

In addition, some data shows that China uses 33 percent of the world's chemical fertilizers to produce 25 percent of the world's food. Excessive dependence and irregular use of chemical fertilizers may cause soil pollution and deterioration of the agricultural ecological environment, which is not conducive to the long-term development of agricultural production.

Indeed, the problem of food waste is worldwide. Due to an increase in unstable factors, such as the pandemic, international relations and natural disasters, the world's food supply is full of variables, and the international food market is surging. 

A third of the world's food is wasted every year. In June 2020, the United Nations warned that the world is on the verge of the worst food crisis in 50 years. The world's top three grain exporters, the US, Brazil and India, are also the three countries most affected by COVID-19.

As the world's largest and most populous developing country, China uses only 7 percent of the world's arable land and feeds 20 percent of the world's population. To further enhance public awareness of the issue, effectively cultivating thrifty habits and fostering a social environment where waste is shameful and thriftiness is applaudable. It is necessary to take a multi-pronged approach to different individuals.

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