Campaign to ease food donor rules as children starve

Published Jun 15, 2024


Durban — While South Africa produces enough food to feed its entire population, millions of tons of food are discarded every day because government regulations prevent businesses from donating it if it is damaged or just-expired and still fit for human consumption.

FoodForward SA, a non-government organisation that collects food for its 25 000 affiliate charity organisations, said 2 500 children died last year because of starvation.

About 33% of infants suffered hunger because their mothers were too malnourished to produce breast milk to feed them.

“Around 4.5 million children are compromised in terms of nutrition in South Africa,” said FoodForward managing director Andy du Plessis.

The UN Children’s Fund SA released a report last week which revealed that 23% of children in the country lived in severe child food poverty and children were “50% more likely to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition”.

FoodForward is driving a campaign to get the government to amend the Consumer Protection Act regulations which make it illegal for businesses to donate food that cannot be sold to the public.

According to last year’s Statistics SA report on availability of food to the needy, nationally there were more than 2 million households that needed basic food, 362 000 in KwaZulu-Natal.

Du Plessis said food supply businesses were keen to donate to the needy but were stopped from doing so not by health regulations, but by “a regulation in terms of the Consumer Protection Act around liability protection”.

“That is why (food dealers) don’t want to donate, and a lot of them are dumping the food because they don’t want to meet those legal issues down the line,” said Du Plessis.

He said his organisation, which works with registered charity organisations, was working around the clock to get the government to amend the act.

“We are talking to the Department of Trade and Industry about reviewing those regulations. We are discussing this at the highest level including Nedlac (the National Economic Development and Labour Council) and Busa (Business Unity South Africa), who support our work. We are putting a paper together to present to them (department) about amending the regulations.

“We are also working with the South African Bureau of Standards to put together a national standard around what food may be donated, which is going to be a game-changer for South Africa,” he said.

Du Plessis said he hoped that if regulations became less restrictive, more businesses would be encouraged to donate food that had slightly passed its expiry date or was damaged but still good to be eaten.

He said the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) reported that more than 10 million tons of food items were flushed down the drain annually.

“That is about 200 000 tons of food a week – almost a third of all we produce in South Africa by our farmers, manufacturers and distributed by retailers.”

Du Plessis said most food was damaged through supply chain destruction, and by regulation was declared inedible and discarded.

The CSIR report said the discarded food was equivalent to 34% of local food production and had resulted in high levels of inefficiency in the food value chain “at a time when there is increasing food insecurity in South Africa”.

“Expired-date food has to be discarded but a lot of our food has a best-before date and a lot of that food can be usable after the best-before date. “The quality may not be as good but it is edible and tasty,” he said.

“We have enough food to feed everyone in South Africa and in fact we export a lot of that food, and yet half of the population does not have food security,” he said.

Du Plessis said FoodForward was against the donation of food left over on dining tables for health reasons. But there was still use for excess food.

“The restaurant may be expecting 500 people to come (and dine) but only 300 people came: that food can be donated,” he said.

Nedlac executive director Lisa Seftel confirmed it was participating in lobbying for food to be donated rather than dumped.

The Department of Trade and Industry and Busa did not respond to requests for comment.

Independent on Saturday