IN AN attempt to cut Australia’s $10 billion annual food waste bill by half over the next 10 years, parliament is set to engage in the rare space of multi-party policy engagement.
In Canberra on Thursday, Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced he would “in a true multi-partisan spirit” invite Labor, the Greens and any interested federal crossbenchers into a dialogue to establish a National Food Waste 2025 Strategy.
Mr Hunt also launched the United Nations Think.Eat.Save campaign with local partner OzHarvest.
The campaign launch, which aims to reduce food waste globally and improve environmental outcomes, coincided with World Environment Day on Friday.
Mr Hunt said reducing poverty, food waste and emissions was a “great national task”, and said the government would be establishing - under the Emissions Reduction Fund - a methodology for accounting, recognising and encouraging food waste recovery.
He praised OzHarvest's 11-year mission to reduce food waste, which has prevented 12 million kilograms of food ending up in landfill and instead realised 35 million meals, equating to 300 grams per meal.
“The reduction in waste - and I think even more importantly, the reduction in uncertainty for those who are seeking their next meal - are fundamental Australian achievements, but the task now is to proceed to that next stage,” he said.
“We already have an approach to waste – but let’s set that decade-long task... let’s do it together.
“First and foremost it’s about dealing with those who are... living with the great anxiety of wondering where their next meal - or even more importantly where their children’s next meal - may come from.”
Zero waste, zero hunger
OzHarvest founder and 2010 Australian of the year local hero Ronni Kahn welcomed the UN’s Think.Eat.Save campaign launch on the eve of World Environment Day, with its theme of: “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care”.
“Our dream is a country with zero waste, zero hunger and zero poverty,” she said.
“I proudly stand here today to tell you we have delivered more than 35m meals to over 700 different charitable organisations... feeding all ages from kids to the elderly, and we saved 12m kg of food going to landfill.
“But I’m not proud of statistic that $8b to $10b worth of good food goes to waste every year in Australia.
“We waste 4m tonnes of food and it costs the average family at least $1000... so it’s time for individual action as well as collective action.”
Ms Kahn said the French government recently passed a law which outlawed the destruction of unsold food products by supermarkets, and the UK, Germany and Austria had also recently set ambitious targets to reduce food waste by 50pc by the years 2020 and 2025.
She urged Australia’s politicians to address the nation’s annual $10b food waste bill and said federal parliament needed to set a target to reduce food waste by 50pc by 2025.
“We can put a plan in motion to reach that target,” she said.
“We can simplify and review food date labelling, educate the public, more research is needed and we can examine the cosmetic standards by which supermarkets reject food.”
UN Information Centre Director for Australia, NZ and the South Pacific Christopher Woodthorpe said OzHarvest was a key partner in the Think.Eat.Save campaign and had worked tirelessly to highlight food waste issues.
“Nationally, regionally and globally we need to take immediate action to save food, improve livelihoods and conserve the environment,” he said.
“Solutions and opportunities exist – but we need to seize the moment and create needed momentum, and that momentum is growing in 2015.
“It is an agenda for which we have a collective responsibility and one whose success is imperative for the future of our planet.”
Labor Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler said a multi-partisan strategy to reduce food waste was a “great initiative” and his party was happy to participate.
Greens Queensland Senator and environment spokesperson Larissa Waters also welcomed the cross-party move to take action on food wastage.
“It’s not often, frankly, that all three parties agree on an issue so this is one of those happy incidences where we can use the parliament to good effect,” she said.
Senator Waters said the Greens had also released a food plan in 2013 which made food waste one of its key elements.
“We do need a national food waste plan so I’m really thrilled that the minister has today shared that view and is inviting us all to participate in that,” she said.
“I looking forward to that discussion and we can usefully fix up our food standards including the cosmetic standard - because there’s an awful lot of so-called 'ugly' fruit and veg.
“Just because it’s ugly, doesn’t mean it’s not edible - and what’s ugly is all dependent on your perspective anyway.
“So let’s look at relaxing those cosmetic standards that the supermarkets often all too vociferously apply, sadly with great food waste effect.”
Senator Waters said she had “a real bugbear against food waste”.
“No stalk of celery goes unused in my house – no left over goes uneaten,” she said.
“Food waste is something we can all help to reduce on an individual basis and make that difference, not just for the climate, but of course for making sure we’re not wasting something that someone else can happily eat.”
Senator Waters said the Greens also wanted increased funding for organisations that help to reduce food waste which would be “an incredibly useful use of taxpayer dollars”.
“If we don’t tackle climate change then unfortunately we have a big problem with food production,” she said.