‘Curbing an unhealthy trend’: China steps up anti-waste drive by turning attention to food firms as well as consumers

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

The Chinese government has stepped up its anti-waste agenda with firms across the supply chain being required to prevent food waste and conserve food. ©Getty Images
The Chinese government has stepped up its anti-waste agenda with firms across the supply chain being required to prevent food waste and conserve food. ©Getty Images

Related tags: China, Food waste

The Chinese government has stepped up its anti-waste agenda with firms across the supply chain being required to prevent food waste and conserve food through its so-called ‘Food Conservation Action Plan’.

Although China’s anti-food waste law enforced earlier this year to tackle its approximately 18 billion kilogrammes of annual food waste made headlines internationally and has been said to deliver positive results, the government is far from satisfied with its progress and has now implemented an additional directive to strengthen food conservation in the country.

Dubbed the ‘Food Conservation Action Plan’, this directive is targeted all along the food production supply chain as opposed to the anti-food waste law which is more consumer and foodservice-facing. The new plan requires food firms all along the food chain to employ practices that will not only prevent food waste but strive to conserve food as well.

“Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has attached great importance to strategies towards reducing food loss and food waste in order to curb this unhealthy trend, and in recent years all local regions and departments have been conscientiously implementing the relevant initiatives,”​ China’s Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the State Council of the People’s Republic of China said via a joint formal statement.

“Although the results have been positive, the problems of food waste are still too great to be ignored, and [we must now move to] strengthen the conservation of food and reduce loss reduction throughout every stage of the supply chain in the food industry.

“This Food Conservation Action Plan has thus been formulated in order to implement directives aimed towards food conservation, as well as to complement China’s Anti-Food Waste Law.”

China hopes to have improved its food supply chains – particularly when it comes to grain and grain-related products – by 2025 to achieve stable food security.

“Thisplan will be implemented throughout the entire food chain, starting with the agricultural end where technology will be used to improve efficient and economical seed usage as well as to reduce harvest loss for key products such as rice, corn, wheat and soybeans – within this, the aim is also to include mechanical training into the national high-quality farmer project to improve skillsets,”​ said the ministries.

“After harvesting comes the storage of food and here we will work to tie in food loss reduction with our green strategy by employing environmentally-friendly drying facilities, upgrading storage facility quality, as well as supporting storage facility owners to store grain based on scientific knowledge.

“A particular concern is to overcome the current ‘grain on the ground’ (地趴粮) problem in the North East.”

‘Grain on the ground’ is a major problem in certain rural areas that face limited storage space and inadequate storage conditions, driving farmers or store owners to simply pile up their corn or grains on the ground and exposing these to pests, pathogens and other food safety issues.

The government also has plans to build specialised railway lines, docks and other logistics facilities to reduce food loss or spoilage en route to food processing firms.

“At present the conversion rate of crops to flour, edible oils and other processed foods is still not yet optimal, so we will also be revising the processing standards to increase yield and make improvements where necessary,”​ said the ministries.

“Technology will again play a very important role here to increase the role of digital management in food processing and upgrade processing equipment to be more flexible and environmentally-friendly. In addition, the industry must look to guide consumers to step out of the long-time pursuit of polished rice and flour in order to not only reduce waste [but improve public health].

“Amidst all these system improvements, China’s food industry must also work towards more comprehensive utilisation of all food resources by effectively upcycling by-products. There are many ways to do this – by-products such as rice brain, wheat germ, oilseed meal, potato pulp and so on can be use to make new edible products or even functional foods.”

Leading by example

At the very end of the food chain, apart from laying out directives for foodservice outlets to adhere to, the government also emphasised that all local and central governments have been mandated to lead by example.

“All party and government agencies, state-owned enterprises and institutions at all levels [are mandated to] improve the management of all meals for official receptions, meetings, trainings and any other official events [according] to anti-food waste principles,”​ they said.

“The number of meals must be arranged based on scientific, reasonable calculations in accordance with health and economical requirements – it is strictly forbidden to organise any banquets or feasts in the name of official activities.”

Other initiatives

In addition to these regulatory implementations, the country has also published formal consumption guidelines for food products nearing expiry dates​, which saw a leap in sales after the anti-food waste law went live in April 2021.

In addition to specifying food safety principles for retail outlets to adhere to when selling these items, usually at a discounted rate, the guidelines also urged consumers to be reasonable when making such purchases and not hoarding large amounts of these well past their expiry dates merely due to the lower prices.

“Being greedy and buying large amounts due to the cheap prices or discounts is an unwise practice [as it increases] the risk of food safety incidents, as well as increases the possibility of increasing food waste further due to having to throw food away due to expiration or spoilage, [defeating their initial purpose],”​ China’s State Administration for Market Regulation stated.

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