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LCQ1: Donation of food waste by commercial organisations

     Following is a question by the Hon Sin Chung-Kai and a reply by the Acting Secretary for the Environment, Ms Christine Loh, in the Legislative Council today (December 2):


     The Environment Bureau published "A Food Waste and Yard Waste Plan for Hong Kong 2014-2022" in February last year and planned to implement various options to reduce food waste. One of the options is the donation of surplus food to other people for consumption. It is learnt that at present, quite a number of non-governmental organisations in Hong Kong collect surplus or soon-to-expire food from commercial organizations (e.g. supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, etc.) and then distribute the food which is still suitable for human consumption to the needy. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the authorities have estimated the quantity of food suitable for human consumption discarded by various commercial organisations in the past three years; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; of the means through which the authorities encourage commercial organisations to donate surplus or soon-to-expire food;

(2) given that in recent months, the French Government enacted legislation to prohibit supermarkets from discarding unsold food products, whether the authorities will consider enacting similar legislation; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether the authorities will consider enacting legislation with exemption clauses for food donors, just as the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act passed by the United States Congress in 1996, which will not only make commercial organisations feel at ease to donate food but also encourage more organisations to donate food, thereby reducing food waste; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Government is committed to promoting the culture of food waste reduction, in order to avoid and reduce food waste disposed of at landfills. The Government's "A Food Waste and Yard Waste Plan for Hong Kong 2014-2022" published in February 2014, mapped out four strategies to deal with food waste, namely reduction at source, reuse and donation, recyclable collection, and turning food waste into energy.

     Our responses to the question raised by the Hon Sin Chung-kai are as follows:

     We are concerned about the possible losses occurring along the food chain because they represent a loss in valuable resources. The question refers to one link along the whole food chain of possible losses and highlights the link relating to food distribution in the marketing system at markets, supermarkets and at retail, such as at restaurants and hotels.

     The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) does not have specific data on the quantities of food suitable for human consumption discarded by companies operating in food distribution in Hong Kong. Hard data is not easy to collect because it relates to the operational information of individual companies and food prior to disposal is a resource, not waste. EPD collects statistics of waste disposed of at landfills, including food waste disposal. We understand that some local non-governmental organisations have estimated surplus food losses in Hong Kong.

     We agree that surplus food and food that has not reached its "best before date" are still edible and should not be thrown away. Since July 2014, the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) has been funding non-profit organisations in the recovery of surplus food for distribution in the community. The funded activities include collection of surplus and edible food from markets, retail shops and food wholesalers. The collected surplus food is distributed to those in need. This also accords with our "Use less and Waste less" concept. As of October 2015, the ECF has approved a total of 10 such projects with funding support of about $15 million. The target is to collect around 950 tonnes of surplus food in two years, and to donate them to 700,000 headcounts.

     According to our understanding, the French law requires supermarkets that exceed a certain size to donate edible unsold food to charities for immediate distribution to people in need.

     We would observe how the French initiative proceeds and how the new law may change the operation of supermarkets, since their disposal of unsold food involves complex issues, including commercial considerations, environmental protection and food safety. At this stage, we are not in a position to consider similar legislation in Hong Kong. Our priority is to encourage supermarkets to reduce food waste disposal and donate edible surplus food to those in need. A number of supermarkets in Hong Kong are donating surplus food to local charities.

     At this stage, the Government has no plan to introduce a Good Samaritan Law. We observe that such legislation still requires due care on food safety, which is a crucial practice. In Hong Kong's context, among other issues, the Centre for Food Safety under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, issued a set of "Food Safety Guidelines for Food Recovery" (Food Safety Guidelines) in August 2013, where it sets out food safety principles that should be applied to food donated to charities, regardless of the types and sources of food. The Food Safety Guidelines is available on the web site and has been shared with the trades and the NGOs. We also understand that some NGOs have entered into food donation agreements with their donors to deal with food safety liability issues, taking into account the principles set out in the Food Safety Guidelines.

     Also, applicants seeking ECF funding for food donation projects have to attend "Trade Talk and Workshop on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point" organised by the Centre for Food Safety. Workshops facilitate applicants' understanding of the Food Safety Guidelines. Our understanding is that this voluntary system has helped both food donors and charities.

Ends/Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Issued at HKT 13:40


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