Can China stop wasting food? Reform on menu after Xi Jinping dishes out scolding

Echo Xie
·4-min read

China could be set to introduce legislation against food wastage, following President Xi Jinping’s call on Tuesday for the country to change its habits.

Zhang Guilong, an official with the Legislative Affairs Commission, under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, said the commission would formulate regulations on preventing food waste through various means.

“We would strengthen management of all aspects including grain production, purchase, storage, transport, processing and consumption,” Zhang was quoted as saying on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, China’s anti-corruption watchdog.

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“Specifically, [we would] advocate a reasonable and healthy dining culture and establish a long-term mechanism to stop food waste,” he said.

Zhang’s remarks came after Xi called on the country to stop wasting food, which he described as “shocking and distressing”.

Agricultural experts have said food wastage is severe in China and legislation was needed to change people’s dining habits.

Zheng Fengtian, a professor of agricultural economics at Renmin University, said China’s food wastage was startling and unlikely to be changed by other means.

“It would be very hard to curb food wastage through people’s consciousness or NGO campaigns,” he said. “Awareness and behaviour can be changed by law, just like waste sorting in many cities.”

An investigation in 2018 by the Institute of Geographic and National Resources Research and the World Wide Fund for Nature estimated that Chinese consumers in four large cities had wasted 17 to 18 million tonnes of food served in 2015 – enough to feed 30 to 50 million people for a year.

The investigation, which surveyed 195 restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Lhasa, found waste of 93 grams per person per meal, or 12 per cent of the food, according to China News Agency.

“We should always have a sense of crisis over food security, especially amid the fallout of the Covid-19 epidemic, despite China having consecutive bumper harvests in recent years,” Xi was quoted as saying by state news agency Xinhua.

Earlier this year, Xi called on China’s local officials to tighten their belts and live thrifty lives.

The onus placed on food security comes with uncertainties over food production and trade worldwide caused by the coronavirus pandemic and worsening China-US relations, although data suggests China does not currently face a food crisis.

China answers food waste curb call with smaller portions for diners

Xinhua reported on July 16 that this summer’s grain output had reached a record high of 143 million tonnes, up 1 per cent from last year.

The National Food Strategic Reserves Administration found in May that the national grain inventory was nearing a record level and that food reserves were sufficient to feed the 1.4 billion population for over a year.

It said on Wednesday that so far this year the state had bought 9 million tonnes of wheat less than by the same stage last year, without giving reasons.

“The authorities are making preparations for the long run in case the international situation deteriorates,” Gu Su, a political scientist at Nanjing University, said.

The cities of Wuhan, Fuzhou and Xianning have already launched campaigns recommending that large groups in restaurants order one dish fewer than the number of diners.

Video-sharing apps Douyin and Kuaishou said on Wednesday that they would delete posts or close down accounts if people ate excessive amounts in their videos, according to news website Thepaper.cn.

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