China launches ‘Clean Your Plate Campaign’ to avert food crisis

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China has officially launched a new version of “Clean Your Plate Campaign” flagged by Chinese President Xi Jinping, sparking speculation that the world’s most populous country faces food crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xi earlier said that food wastage was shocking and distressing, and that it is necessary to further enhance public awareness of the issue, cultivate thrifty habits and foster a social environment where waste is shameful and thriftiness is good.

“Different from the previous campaign, which was aimed at putting an end to officials’ extravagant feasts and receptions, the 2.0 version calls for the public to stop wasting food,” state-run Global Times reported on Thursday.

“The initiative initially sparked speculation by some media over whether China is in a food crisis. Experts say the world indeed faces a food shortage, but for China, the real threat to food security comes more from food wastage than epidemic or floods,” it said.

After he took over power in 2012, Xi in an image-building exercise banned luxury banquets with liquor, especially for the military which has been asked not to waste food and feed on leftovers and keep away from fancy food during official banquets.

But with the passage of time, officials say, most of the old practices returned.

In 2014 Wu Zidan, deputy director of China’s State Administration of Grain said food wastage in the country amounted to USD 32.6 billion.

“Despite media hype that China is in a looming food crisis, which is worsened by the epidemic, floods in southern China, and food imports, Chinese agriculturalists said the above factors will not lead to a food crisis in China, but that wasting food is an issue that deserves more attention,” the report said.

Despite bumper crops, China has been importing essential grains like rice from south-east Asian countries, besides India and Pakistan.

China’s food security was not seriously affected by COVID-19, and China’s grain reserves are ample, Zheng Fengtian, said a professor at Renmin University of China’s School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.

Outside China, the pandemic had an impact on global grain production and trade. However, Zheng said China has adjusted its grain import strategy to make the sources of grain imports (especially corn and soybeans) more equal.

In an investigation by the Institute of Geographic and National Resource Research and the World Wide Fund, tourist groups, primary and secondary school students, and official banquets were the top three causes of food wastage.

Per capita food waste in China is 93 grams per person per meal, with a waste rate of 11.7 per cent, the report said.

Wen Tiejun, a professor at the School of Agriculture and Rural Development at the Renmin University of China said that consumers are also responsible for food security, and should be aware of it.

Wen said food wastage in the past few years has been shocking, as it was once reported that food wasted in China was enough to feed 200 million people a year.

He stressed the importance of food security education and guidance in forming rational consumption habits, which is crucial to reducing food wastage and ensuring food security.

Besides consumers, experts like Zheng said that food is also wasted in production, storage, and distribution up to 20 per cent due to technical problems, he said.

Policies during the epidemic, which encouraged separate meals and reduced dining out, actually reduced food wastage, Zheng said.

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