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Governments urged to address food waste, national food strategy needed

TORONTO — The issue of waste is never far from the surface in national and international discussions about food security and shrinking fresh water resources.

“The best way to have more water is to waste less,” Nestlé Waters North America president Tim Brown told a recent Conference Board of Canada meeting.

Nancy Croitoru, president of Food and Consumer Products of Canada, echoed the theme for food.

“There is a huge amount of food waste,” she told the conference.

It is a message that Richard Kingdon and Toronto’s Second Harvest non-profit organization have taken to heart.

“Every day in this city, good food is going to waste,” the chair of the Second Harvest operating committee told the conference, which was organized to discuss a national food strategy.

Second Harvest volunteers scour city food establishments daily to collect unused fresh fruit and vegetables that otherwise would be thrown out or composted.

As many as 600 restaurants, supermarkets, stores, distribution centres and farmers markets are regular donors, providing fresh produce that was not used or purchased and is nearing its best-before date.

Approximately 19,000 pounds of food are collected on a typical day, said Kingdon. It is distributed to shelters, emergency food banks and schools that serve after-school healthy snacks.

Last year, 7.2 million pounds of produce was donated by stores, catering companies, food distribution centres, restaurants and other food companies that typically end up with excess fresh produce at the end of the day.

Second Harvest “hunger squads” stuff the food into hand bags and often deliver it on foot.

“We have the food and we need to get it to those who need it,” Kingdon said in an interview.

“It has to be done quickly so our on-foot food rescue and delivery service is an effective way to get it out quickly. More than 20 percent of the food we collect gets distributed immediately and never makes it back to our warehouse.”

Kingdon said the Toronto model is unique in Canada and has proven effective.

“There is so much nutritious food being wasted and so many who need it,” he said.

“This is a way to connect the two.”

FoodShare executive director Debbie Field complained that household food security is an issue that typically does not receive government attention domestically or worldwide.

“In a world of plenty, hunger is a distribution problem,” she said.

More than one billion people in the world are considered food insecure.

In Canada, several million people in food insecure households as food bank use increases.

Field said more emphasis is needed on local food. As well, Health Canada should designate one per cent of its budget to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to vulnerable populations.

“Industry prosperity alone is not enough for a national food strategy,” she said.

However, she said the federal government seems focused on an industry strategy rather than a food strategy.

“We have a missing partner here, the federal government.”

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