News / Vancouver

Tax incentive to stop food waste could hurt food banks: B.C. food advocate

Canadians waste $31 billion of edible food annually. Metro Vancouver officials are set to vote on a proposal to stop the waste, but critics say it won’t help.

Edible fruit and vegetables are often thrown out. Metro Vancouver is considering advocating for a federal tax incentive for companies to donate instead of tossing excess food.

Courtesy Metro Vancouver

Edible fruit and vegetables are often thrown out. Metro Vancouver is considering advocating for a federal tax incentive for companies to donate instead of tossing excess food.

Everyone agrees it’s rotten that Canadians waste an estimated $31 billion of edible food every year – equivalent to 300 million meals – especially considering millions struggle to feed their families.

To try to solve part of the problem, the National Zero Waste Council is lobbying the federal government to give companies a tax incentive to donate unsold edible food instead of throwing it out. Metro Vancouver’s regional government is scheduled to vote next week on whether to advocate for the tax incentive at the federal level.

But some critics say a tax incentive isn’t the best way to stop the waste and could hurt food banks, the very charities it’s supposed to help.

“It quickly comes across as a win-win solution, but if you scratch below the surface it’s too simplistic and creates a lot of other consequences,” B.C. Food Systems Network director Brent Mansfield said.

Mansfield, whose organization is part of Tides Canada, believes a tax incentive could encourage corporations to dump food on food banks. If they can’t handle the volume, the charities could be saddled with processing and disposal costs instead of the corporations.

He advocates for a broader solution that would encourage farmers to produce less, educate people not to waste food and lift people out of poverty so they can buy their own food. He acknowledged these solutions could take a long time, but believes that creating the tax incentive as an interim step has too many potential consequences.

He has reached out to Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, chair of the region’s zero waste committee, in hopes to sway him from supporting the tax incentive.

Brodie recognizes the tax incentive won’t solve everything, but he thinks it is unconscionable to see excess safe, edible food get thrown into the garbage.

“It is not the answer to every question about poverty reduction and food security, but it’s certainly a good interim step,” Brodie said. “It would be a big shame to let that food go to waste when it can be productively used, and used by those who really need it.”

Municipalities save money because less goes into the landfill, companies such as restaurants and grocery stores save on disposal costs and people who need healthy produce can get access to it, he said.

Metro asked the Greater Vancouver Food Bank to weigh in on the proposal, but spokeswoman Ariela Friedmann said it is still reviewing the report.  

“We do believe very strongly in people having access to healthy and nutritious food,” Friedmann said.

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