By Yusuke Wada
Recently, one of my collegues at Second Harvest Japan (2HJ)wrote an article about food waste and food banking in Japan. She mentioned the one-third rule in her article. Being in the food-banking field, I often hear in one way or another the “one-third rule” story.
One-third No. 1
I ususally explain the problem we are confronted with like this: More than one-third of food produced globally goes to waste, while in Asia, there are hundreds of millions people who go hungry every single day. Why don’t we connect the two extremes?
Many people are shocked when they learn how much food is wasted and the burgeoning number of poor. The report Global Food Losses and Food Waste from FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reports; “roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.”
And ironically, 578 million people live without enough food in Asia*.
Let’s explore the reasons so much food is wasted.
One-third No. 2
When I was working at 2HJ, I experienced many food companies approach us who told us how they had chosen to donate some of their products instead of selling them. Many companies did so out of the goodness of their hearts. However, understandably, as they are businesses, many of them chose to donate food to us because their products for some reason were unsalable. (Increasingly, companies choose to dispose of this inventory, which meant they had to bear the associated costs.)
Why was the product unsalable? There are many reasons. Some had mistakes in the labeling. (For example, they accidentally printed Dark instead of Mild.) Some produced more products than they would be able to sell. You wouldn’t believe the amount of food that ends up being unsalable for those reasons. But one of the big reasons good food becomes waste, at least in Japan, is the one-third rule. This is the second one-third.
One-third rule is a common practice among retailers in Japan to make sure that food suppliers provide them with products that have at least one-third of their shelf life remaining. For example, if your canned fruit have three years of shelf life, you have to make sure when you send this product to retailers that it has at least 12 months of shelf life remaining. If it is 11 months, retailers will not accept them. As the manufacturer, the cost of disposal must be borne by you.
Since this leads to an incredible amount of food waste, there has been clamoring to have this one-third rule abandoned: I personally support the efforts. Food banking is not necessarily a solution to this issue, but we can be a force that works to reduce the amount of waste. By doing so, this largess of food can be used to help the people in need.
This is the magic of food banking. And that’s why we are fascinated by food banking. And that’s why we are trying to spread the knowledge and practice of food banking in Asia.
Also, this rouses my curiosity and makes me want to know if the one-third rule is a common practice in other countries, like the U.S. or other Asian countries. I would like to acquire more knowledge in this regard and report my findings to you in the future.
If you have any information or can point me in the right direction, I’d appreciate it you please let me know.
* World Model UN 2012 Update Paper by World Health Organization