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Government will help get excess food to needy

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TOKYO >> Japan’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is set to support organizations that function as food banks, distributing food products to people in need.

This year, the ministry plans to test a system that will manage demand from recipients and the availability of excess food mainly from factories, retail stores and restaurants. The ministry hopes the system will link supply and demand, and contribute to efficient food delivery. An underlying goal is to reduce food waste.

Under the program, companies and organizations with food to donate will input logistical information, such as the amount of food they can provide and when it’s available, into the system. Facilities for children and the elderly as well as other groups will use the system to request food.

The ministry is accepting applications from groups interested in managing the system and plans to begin the trial as early as April. Costs will be covered by funds earmarked for food-waste reduction.

According to a national food bank association, the number of organizations engaging in food bank activities in Japan increased to 110 in 2019, up from 19 in 2010. Yet the amount of donated food has outpaced the growth in organizations, peaking at about 4,000 tons a year, and more manpower is needed. That poses a challenge amid the country’s labor shortage.

Food bank activities are also spreading among companies. KFC Holdings Japan Ltd., for example, is donating ready-cooked chicken products, and Lawson Inc. and Mitsubishi Shokuhin Co. are donating expired sweets, canned food and other items to facilities such as kodomo shokudo children’s cafeterias, through food bank organizations. Kodomo shokudo provide free or inexpensive meals to local children from low-income families.

According to the ministry, Japan wasted 6.43 million tons of food in 2016, equivalent to 1 cup of rice per resident per day.

The program aligns with the Food Loss Act, which went into effect in October and supports food banks.

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