Best-before Dates Causing Serious Food Waste in Japan

Best-before Dates Causing Serious Food Waste in Japan
What you need to know

Japan has implemented the three-point system. Food preserved over one-third of the best-before date needs to be taken off from the shelf and disposed.

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The Taiwan Environmental Information Center reports, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, the food self-sufficiency rate in Japan accounts for only 39 percent, yet 18.5 million tons of food is disposed per year.

The food consumption rate, meaning food that has not expired or is edible but still need to be disposed, has steadily increased. The estimated loss of food reaches up to five to eight million tons, almost equivalent to the harvest amount of rice in Japan.

Why do they throw away so much food?

The strict food safety management in Japan divides the expiration date into two kinds: use-by date and best-before. Use-by date means the food is no longer edible after this date, which is usually five days after being produced. Best-before means you can enjoy the best taste of the food before the date stamped.

CRNTT reports, the shelf-life of Japanese food is the shortest in the world. In addition, Japan also implemented the three-point system. Food preserved over one-third of the best-before date needs to be taken off from the shelf and disposed. Take food that has a best before period of one year for example. Under the circumstances that there is no concern of food safety or quality, food over eight months from the manufactured date need to be cleared off the shelf.

The three-point system strictly controls the quality of the food, yet caused serious food waste and has draw high attention in the Japanese society in recent years.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan points out, Japan can reduce 40,000 tons of food waste if the authorities alter the three-point system.

Japanese non-profit organization Second Harvest Japan says they are collecting lunch boxes, bread, canned food, instant noodles and other foods that haven’t expired but are ready to be cleared off the shelves of major supermarkets and convenience stores. They donate the food to welfare facilities for children for no compensation. The donation is estimated to reach up to 1,600 tons per year, yet the amount of food dumped per year in Japan is 10,000 times more than this number.

Food import in China has increased sharply recently. In 2014, China imported 72.5 million tons of food from January to October, almost equivalent to the amount imported the entire year of 2013. On the other hand, the food wasted on the dining table in China accounts for 3.5 million tons, which is nearly half the amount of food imported.

China Times reports, according to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture (FAO), the most advanced countries in the world dispose an average of 1.3 billion tons of food each year. This is equivalent to one-third of the total production. North American and European countries discard an average of 280 to 300 kilograms of food a year, which is equal to the annual total production of South American countries.

The United Nations Institute for Sustainable Development (UNCSD) forecasts, the world population will exceed nine billion in 2050, but because of desertification and abnormal climate, agricultural labor productivity will decline by 2.3 percent to 1.5 percent in thirty years. With advanced countries wasting food and 800 million people worldwide suffering from long-term food shortage, how to allocate resources will become a global concern in the future.

Translated by June
Edited by Olivia Yang

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