Food donations: fight for the leftovers

Status: 07.10.2022 15:29

More and more people depend on food donations: but food banks, food sharing initiatives and leftover shops are increasingly vying for leftovers. This also has to do with legal obstacles.

By Christian Buttkereit, SWR

“It all started in January and February,” recalls Sabine Altmeyer-Baumann, State President of the Rhineland-Palatinate/Saarland Food Banks. “Since food prices have risen significantly, more and more people are coming to the food banks.” Then there are the Ukrainian war refugees. “At the same time, donations from retailers are declining.”

As a result, the panels were able to provide the needy with less food than before. Newcomers would initially be placed on a waiting list. Across Germany, more than two million people now depend on the panels. “Many food banks already have an admission ban,” said Anna Verres of the Federal Association of Food Banks. “Many more people are at risk of poverty in the coming months, but donations are already scarce.”

awareness increases

Awareness of donating food rather than throwing it away has increased significantly among manufacturers and retailers over the past two decades. According to the Federal Association of the German Food Trade, BVLH, retailers donate at least 74,000 tons of food to non-profit organizations each year. What seems like a lot, however, is not much more than the amount of food that ends up in the garbage in Germany in two days.

In addition, less and less unsold food remains on the shelves of supermarkets. Kristina Schütz, spokeswoman for the Rewe Group, says that modern forecasting systems and automated ordering processes now make it possible to supply markets with fresh goods according to their needs. “Meanwhile, Penny and Rewe sell an average of more than 98 percent of their groceries per year.”

demonstrate need

Selling more means throwing away less, but also giving away less. Rewe has worked with the Tafel since 1996, Penny since 2007. They pass on food that “can be eaten without hesitation,” they say. In addition, in selected cities there is cooperation with the Foodsharing eV association or similar local associations and institutions. “Cooperation with the food banks is a national priority for us,” says Kristina Schütz. You appreciate that with the signs.

Because the fact is that social enterprises or food-sharing initiatives, which like to call themselves ‘food rescuers’ and so-called rescue shops, which often sell food cheaply past its expiry date, leave less to some food banks, confirms food bank spokeswoman Anna Verres. “We are the only ones who consistently pay attention to the social aspect.” Because everyone who comes to the Table has to prove their need, for example with a proof of income.

One reason: legal uncertainty

One of the reasons why some retailers are more likely to shop for food-sharing initiatives is legal uncertainty, says Sabine Altmeyer-Baumann of the Rhineland-Palatinate/Saarland Food Association. Because the panels would be treated like grocers before the law. “Food sharers, on the other hand, are considered private individuals,” said Verres of the Federal Association of Food Banks. Should problems arise from, for example, eating spoiled yogurt, the food bank will be held liable. However, Verres says he has never heard of such a case.

So while the Table would be liable if anyone upsets their stomach, some retailers are reluctant to give the Table items with an expiration date. Even though the goods can usually be consumed after the date after an inspection, Verres emphasizes.

But it doesn’t have to be the stomach upset that causes problems. According to industry association BVLH, there is also a risk of legal problems if the amount of donated food deviates from the information on the packaging due to a manufacturing error or if the ingredient list is complete but not in the correct order. Tables are then obliged to change the labels. However, they often do not have the staff to do this.

Lawmakers have recognized the problem

According to the BVLH, the amount of donated food would continue to grow if these legal hurdles were removed. The legislator has also recognized the problem. A federal and state commission must review the legislation regarding hurdles and barriers, such as when passing food. After all, the “National Strategy for Reducing Food Waste” plans to cut food destruction by half by 2030. Even if the implementation takes a long time, the Table-Bundesverband confirms that Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir is taking the matter seriously.

Despite all the competition for food donations, food banks, food sharing initiatives and other stakeholders have finally agreed on the goal of reducing the amount of food that ends up in the bin. Until the responsible ministry implements the intention with actions, it will first celebrate the “Germany saves food” campaign week, including the presentation of the federal prize “Too good for the trash”. Meanwhile, the rows of the needy in front of the panels are getting longer and longer.

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