July 23, 2013


Food Waste and Disaster Relief from the Perspective of the Food Bank (Part One)

Keywords: Civil Society / Local Issues Food Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.130 (June 2013)

Japan's food self-sufficiency rate based on calories is currently around 40 percent -- extremely low compared to other advanced nations -- while approximately 18 million tons of food waste is generated each year. Out of that figure about five to eight million tons is still safe to eat. At the same time the relative poverty rate in Japan is roughly 16%, or about 20 million people as of 2011.

Note: Relative poverty rate is the ratio of households that fall below the poverty line (half the median amount of disposable income among people aged 18 to 65). In 2011, Japan's poverty line was 1.12 million yen (US$ 13,847).

Food banking addresses the issue of surplus and unmet need. These organizations collect and distribute food to those in need and the many welfare institutions, NPOs, and faith-based groups that serve them. Donors are food companies, schools, farmers, and individuals. Food banking began in the U.S. more than 45 years ago. In Japan food banking began in January 2000, when a coalition of groups serving those in need began collecting and sharing food for their own programs. Charles McJilton was a co-representative of this group. On March 11, 2002, he incorporated the first food bank in Japan. , There are now nearly 40 groups carrying out some type of food banking activity in Japan.

In this issue of our newsletter, the Sustainable Food Business Study Group, led by JFS's General Manager Riichiro Oda, introduces the current conditions of food waste and disaster relief activities in Japan, following a workshop held with Masahiro Otake of Second Harvest Japan, and Kazumasa Haijima, who was on staff with Second Harvest Japan during the disaster relief operations in 2011.

About Second Harvest Japan

Second Harvest Japan has four programs.

"Harvest Kitchen" provides 400 - 500 hot meals each Saturday in Ueno Park. Approximately 70 - 80 volunteers help prepare the food starting on Friday and continuing Saturday morning. The meals are delivered around 12:30 in the park. More and more volunteers from companies have been assisting in these efforts as part of CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities.

"Harvest Pantry," provides direct assistance to those needy households. There are three different methods in which food assistance is distributed. The first is direct distribution to recipients who come to their warehouse on either Thursday or Saturday. The second is through the deliver of care-packages directly to the recipient's house. This is mainly for those who live far away or in Tohoku. For Tohoku alone, over 16,000 care packages have been sent in the last two years. The last method is a mobile pantry in which food is brought to a distribution point for recipients to receive.

Food banking is the third and main activity they engage in. Food banks act as wholesaler collecting and delivering food donations to welfare institutions, NPOs, and faith-based groups who in turn use it in their own programs. All the food that is donated is still safe for human consumption and has not expired.

Major food donors include food manufacturers, wholesales and supermarkets as well as individuals. Second Harvest Japan has signed agreements with more than 400 companies in the last 10 years. Each month they deliver these donations to over 300 welfare institutions and other organization in the Kanto region and to many of the 40 regional food banks.

The last major program is "advocacy & development," in which they promote food banking and the development of both a food safety-net and food lifeline. They work with local food banks to help them grow as well as the government who is interested in food banking as alternative to dumping.

In 2012, Second Harvest Japan delivered 3,123 tons of food. While 60% of this was water and drinks, it was a significant increase from previous years (2010, 813 tons and 2011, 1,689 tons). The large volume of water and drinks reflected the huge in Fukushima by pregnant women and mothers concerned about their young children. Previously we had calculated the value of one kilo of food at about 600 yen. So for example, in 2010 we estimated we delivered about 487 million worth of food. However, with the rapid increase water and liquid in 2011 and 2012 we no longer felt this was an accurate reflection of the true financial impact of the food donations we delivered. On the other hand, what has remained constant is the financial benefit to companies who donate. It costs about 100 yen per kilo to process food for destruction. Based on this calculation last year, companies saved about 300 million yen.

Donated food has been delivered to orphanages, support centers for single mothers, shelters for domestic violence victims and facilities for persons with disabilities. In 2011, the delivery list came to include disaster victims living in evacuation shelters, and temporary housing units.

In future, Second Harvest Japan hopes to include Cause Related Marketing (CRM) in its scope of activities. CRM is a type of strategic marketing in which an organization engages in sales activities relating to its own brand or service to help solve a social problem that also lead to operational profits. In response to the Tohoku Disaster many companies engaged in similar types of campaigns to raise funds. For instance, British Airways had fundraising campaign for the reconstruction of disaster-stricken areas in Tohoku. In this campaign, 5,000 yen (about $53.2) per ticket of British Airways' economy class "World Traveler" program was automatically donated to Second Harvest Japan for disaster relief and reconstruction. Even though the campaign was relatively short, about 20 million yen was raised in the campaign.

Food Waste Issues Arising from Food Industry Practices

As mentioned above, annually about 18 million tons of food waste is generated in Japan of which 5 - 8 million tons is still considered safe for human consumption. This amount is equivalent to Japan's annual rice production. and its commercial value is approximately 4.8 billion yen (about $51 million), calculated at 600 yen (about $6.4) per kilogram. We noted above that the food bank received 813 tons of food in 2010, , but this was less than 0.01% of the volume of food that could have been donated.

The food industry in Japan commonly follows a "one-third rule" when it comes to supply chain management.

In the example above, a product is made in February and must be delivered to the store in the first one-third, or in this case by May. Then, if the product has not been sold before the last one-third of its lifecycle it will be pulled from the shelf and destroyed. A significant amount of food is rejected during that first one-third period. Therefore in Japan, at least, it is not the expiration date that is of prime importance but the delivery date followed by the sell date.

Packaging problems also make up a significant amount of waste. We say that if a product is not one of the 3Ps (perfect, pristine, or presentable), it will not be purchased., Other food donations include the excess inventory of seasonal products after gift-giving seasons such as the traditional Japanese summer and winter gift-giving seasons as well as Christmas. Many imperfect vegetables are donated as well.

Japanese food-related industries have initiated a review of this "one-third" rule. Initiatives include: 1) launching a pilot project to review and reconsider the "deliver-by" date, 2) a review of "use-by" dates, 3) a review of food labeling, 4) a project to raise awareness among consumers about reducing food waste, and 5) utilization of food banking systems and other measures to reduce food waste.

Increasing Poverty in Japan, a Country where Food Satiation Prevails

The other issue underlying food bank activities is serving those in need. According to the "relative poverty rate" data published by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, in 2011 people living in poverty accounted for 16 percent of the whole population or about 20 million persons,

Among these 20 million persons living below the poverty line, Second Harvest Japan has estimated that about 2 million people lack food security. Food security is defined as having access to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious food in a socially acceptable manner. For example, someone living on the streets may be able to pick out large amounts of fruits, vegetables, and other food from the trash. However, this is not socially acceptable or safe. On the other hand, a single-mother skipping a meal to feed her kids also does not have access to enough food. Both of these people lack "food security."

The largest number of people lacking food security in Japan are not the homeless, contrary to many people's impression. Government statistics put the national homeless population at about 8,200. In contrast, just 10% of individuals in single-mother households is 423,000. A small percentage considering the poverty rate for single-mothers is more than 50%. The same breakdown can be done with the elderly. If you take just 5% of those over 65 you soon come to 1.5 million people. Yet again the poverty rate is much higher at 22% for couples and more than 50% for single elderly women. It is easy to see how Second Harvest Japan quickly arrived at 2 million people lacking food security.

Another cause for concern is the fact that the elderly account for a substantial fraction of the poor. It is estimated that one out of four persons in Japan will be 65 years old or older in 2013, and one out of three in 2035. The percentage of the poor is estimated to increase steadily.

Food Banking Advantages for Donors and Beneficiaries

Second Harvest Japan also receives various forms of support from non-food companies, for example the use of warehouse space free of charge, deliveries using empty trucks on their return trip, and direct deliveries by vehicles of supporting companies.

Advantages of food banking for food donor companies are reduction in waste disposal costs and fulfillment of CSR goals by involving their own business and at no cost. In addition, donor companies also enjoy marketing merits as well, because some beneficiaries are expected to be able to live independently and become consumers in the future, and according to statistics, people have a strong tendency to purchase food they have been consuming on a regular basis.

For beneficiaries, the reduction in food cost is the biggest advantage. Saved food expenses can be allocated for other welfare purposes. Also, in some cases the process of providing donated food opens up lines of communication between welfare agencies or NPO staff members and recipients.

Second Harvest Japan strives to create trusting partnerships with both its donors and recipients. This is a fundamental value for the organization.

Food Banking Network Spreading around Japan

Food Bank Yamanashi, is collaborating with the local government on a "Food Safety Net" project, which distributes two weeks' worth of donated food to people who come to the Public Assistance division of the Minami-Alps City office for consultation. The project aims to help such people regain their independence even while they are not receiving government welfare subsidies.

Between May and December in 2010, 14 out of 40 people who had been receiving government subsidies also received support from Food Bank Yamanashi, and consequently, nine of these 14 people were able to get a job. This project was cost effective for the municipality, and helped cut its welfare budget by 40 million yen (US$425,532).

Creating a Network of 'Local Produce for Local Consumption'

In October 2010, 11 food banks signed "2010 Food Banking Standards" which was meant to codify standards for food banking. This year, Second Harvest Japan Alliance will update these standards and present a plan to engage the 30 foods that have come into existence since the signing fo the first standards.

Second Harvest Japan Alliance was created to promote food banking throughout Japan and help local food banks grow. With this initiative local food banks will have the ability and capacity to reach out to local donors to access available resources in their own region.

Second Harvest Japan Alliance views this as the most efficient method to invigorate each local region. This regional-based system was very useful in supplying donated food to victims of the great earthquake on March 11, 2011.

(To be continued in Part Two)

Adapted from the Sustainable Food Business Study Group Summary by Hiroyo Hasegawa