Food is Food Blog

A Taxing Proposition that Bites

Every New Year brought the usual trail of resolutions whose resolve is severely tested and usually melted by the time we hit mid winter. A common resolution is to eat less and exercise more. Another common resolution is to manage our money better.

A cool hybrid resolution would be to eat better and throw out less.

There are many culprits when it comes to throwing out food. Ultimately the key responsibility is personal through buying too much, not knowing how to cook and hating leftovers. However, we can look upstream behind the happy facades of food retailers and see (and often not see) a lot of food being wasted.

The practice of food retailers wasting food is so institutionalized that most don’t even realize it. It is largely done under the auspices of public health.

Just last week I was trolling around the produce section at a grocery store (part of my resolution to eat better) and saw the produce man pulling shiny apples off the display pile and into a garbage box and then replaced with a new shiny apple.

The Zero Waste Council recently came out with “Tax Incentive Options for Charitable Food Donations Making the Business Case” and have been advocating that food retailers get an (additional) tax break to donate leftover edible food to various charities. It should be pointed out that they already get a tax break for their donations.

However, a key argument made is that businesses “often pay more to donate food than to throw it out” and on that basis need some additional tax relief. Their argument serves to highlight a significant food retailing structural issue that somehow there is choice between feeding hungry people and throwing food into a landfill to feed hungry bacteria.

A second issue is that, on this basis, food retailers have created two classes of food; one that they can sell to fortunate citizens and a second class they can feed to hungry people or hungry bacteria. It raises the significant ethical question do hungry people deserve to be fed second-class food?

I don’t know how the Council got co-opted by food retailers (I presume) into developing and promoting this idea. By definition zero waste encourages the that all products are reused. It is clear that there is significant work left to do.

Firstly, a re-design of food retailing is required so that it better matches the food it sells with customer demands.

Secondly, the way consumers expect food to look like it needs to be dialed down from the idealistic (not to mention unsustainable and unrealistic) way that food is currently being sold. It’s straight out of Disney.

Finally, best before date labeling needs a rebuild so that it applies only to relevant products and is understandable by consumers. All this additional tax incentive does is allow food retailers to perpetuate their bad habits and get paid to do it.

As consumers we already pay for both food disposal and donation. All that tax relief for food retailers would accomplish is to make consumers pay twice; once for donating the food and then again to make up the tax shortfall.

Somehow it needs to become unacceptable for edible food to be directed to the garbage (not to mention composting). That unacceptability, if not taken up voluntarily, may need to work its way into regulation.

That’s much more in line with zero waste and as well as being in the spirit of “you are your brother’s keeper”. It would force a change in the food retailer’s bottom line so that the stupid choice between landfilling food and using it to fill an empty (human) stomach do not have to be made.