After 10 Years of Debate, Knesset Passes Food Donation Act

October 24, 2018

4 min read

After ten years of debate, Israel has now become the fifth nation in the world to pass a national food rescue law. “The Food Donation Act” protects food donors, non-profit organization, staff and volunteers from criminal and civil liability should donated food cause any negative consequences to the receivers.

The act, which was led by Member of Knesset (MK) Uri Maklev with support from MK Eli Elalouf, MKs Moshe Gafni, Yechiel ‘Hilik’ Bar, Orly Levi Abekasis, Shuli Mualem and Mordechai Yogev, and in cooperation with Leket Israel hopes to change the face of hunger in the Holy Land.

The law is meant to protect those who donate food in good faith from being responsible should a person end up eating tainted food. Therefore, only where there is clear criminal activity or obvious and intentional negligence will food donors now be liable.

“In Israel, every third child suffers from hunger and every fourth person from poverty,” Maklev stated, “We have to make an effort to find a solution. There are solutions. Restaurant owners, hotels and organizations should not be throwing away food since destroying food is like destroying the soul.”

Judaism maintains a basic ethical principle, based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20, that one should not destroy wastefully:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down.”

Known as ba’al tashchit (בל תשחית), the sages extended the concept to various other dictates including not destroying or wasting of food.

“The passing of the Food Donation Act is so important to Israel’s impoverished citizens; it benefits organizations like Meir Panim that strive to feed those who are hungry with quality food,” said Danielle Rubin, Project Director of American Friends of Meir Panim, to Breaking Israel News. “It’s exciting that this bill passed on the heels of World Food Day. We congratulate Leket for encouraging this bill, as they regularly donate their food surplus to Meir Panim’s soup kitchens located throughout Israel.”

The Food Donation Act is similar to the Bill Emerson Act in the United States that absolves food donors, non-profit organizations, staff and volunteers at non-profit organizations from criminal and civil liability, provided they adhere to the Ministry of Health’s food safety requirements. Similar acts are maintained in Canada, New Zealand and Italy, making Israel only the fifth to pass such a bill.

The new law’s explanatory notes highlight the fact that more and more of Israel’s population suffer from food insecurity, including many children. “1.8 million Israelis suffer from food insecurity while 2.3 million tons of food at a value of NIS 19.5 billion (5+ billion USD) is thrown away annually,” stated Gidi Kroch, Leket Israel’s CEO. “The Food Donation Act opens the door to hundreds of organizations and businesses that have quality and substantial amounts of surplus food but do not currently donate out of fear from liability.”

Restaurants, banquet halls, corporate dining rooms, retail chains and hotels, until now, have avoided donating their excess food to people and organizations for fear of civil or criminal liability should their food cause someone to become sick.

According to estimates, this law will triple the scope of food donations and will expand food rescue on a national level. “Food insecurity is a serious problem which, among other issues, increases the social gaps between people, especially children,” continued Rubin to Breaking Israel News. “The new law will help provide nutritious food for those in need and also significantly reduce food waste and cost.”

With nearly one fifth of Israelis living with food insecurity and half of all food still fit for consumption thrown out, it is estimated that by rescuing annually just 20 percent of the wasted food in Israel, food insecurity for most people would disappear. Additionally, a recent poll of hotels by the Israel Hotel Association found that some 80 percent of hotels were interested in participating in a food rescue program but withheld doing so for fear of lawsuits.

While trying to push this bill through, Maklev noted, “We see a reality where those with plenty do not know those without. There are many organizations that are interested in donating surplus food, but due to their concerns and fears of liability, they destroy the food rather than donate it to the people who need it most. It is our obligation to help and encourage anyone who wants to donate and not to prevent it.”

“The bill is a clear example of the situation in which disadvantaged populations and children under the poverty line can be assisted by the civil society that wants to help them,” said MK Orly Levi Abekasis. “There is no reason to destroy good quality food when there are hungry families in Israel.”

The report explained that each shekel invested in food rescue provides NIS 3.6 worth of food. Adding in factors such as environmental benefits, this figure doubles to NIS 7.2 for every shekel invested.

Surplus food in the retail and distribution sectors is “inevitable,” the report stated, as retailers are required to ensure a constant availability of food to consumers who will not tolerate a shortage of the food items they want to buy.

“I bless everyone who participated in promoting this law,” shared MK Eli Elalouf, Chairman of the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. “It is a huge milestone and I am proud to be a partner in this initiative.”

To donate to Meir Panim, please click here.

Written in cooperation with Meir Panim.

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