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Editorial: Japan food waste bill a good first step, but society-wide change needed

A bill aimed at reducing the amount of food waste in Japan is expected to be enacted during the current Diet session.

About 6.43 million metric tons of still-edible foodstuffs are estimated to have been discarded in fiscal 2016. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set a target of halving the amount of food each person throws away by 2030. Japan's enactment of the law will be an important step toward achieving that target.

The bill, drawn up and sponsored by a non-partisan parliamentary league, states that reducing wasted food should be a nationwide effort. It asks the central government to work out a basic policy for attaining the SDGs target, and local bodies to cooperate in implementing specific measures.

What is noteworthy is that the bill urges consumers to be proactive about reducing their own food waste. About half of foodstuffs wasted in Japan come from households. Many people throw away food with expired "use-by" dates without confirming whether it is still edible. Under these circumstances, it is necessary to change consumers' consciousness of the issue.

As consumer awareness influences business operators, it customary in the Japanese food industry to remove food items from store shelves shortly before their use-by dates. The Act on Promotion of Recycling and Related Activities for Treatment of Cyclical Food Resources obligates business operators to reduce the volume of wasted food, and the government has taken other measures to that end. Still, the amount of food loss has remained constant over the past several years.

The bill was not drawn up for the sole purpose of reducing wasted food. It also urges national and local governments to extend assistance to food bank programs to supply food to impoverished families. While surplus foodstuffs are dumped by some, food is in short supply in other areas. This imbalance should be rectified. The fact that one in seven children in Japan come from an impoverished household is a factor behind the bill.

The legislation mainly provides a basic, food waste reduction philosophy, and how to ensure its efficacy needs to be addressed after it is enacted. How to create a system to supply food to households in dire financial straits will be an important matter.

There are fresh moves among businesses to reduce food loss. Major convenience store chain operator Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is set to introduce a system to give reward points to customers who buy foods close to the use-by dates at all its stores across the nation. The bill, if it comes into force, is expected to back these moves.

Simply conducting an awareness campaign in accordance with legislation will not change people's lifestyles. It is imperative to implement measures to obligate business operators to take concrete actions to reduce food waste and get consumers into the campaign.

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