Shanghai Sets Up Food Waste Tip-Off Hotline Amid Food Security Concerns

china-foodwaste2-082020.jpg A staff member places a sign warning against food waste in a restaurant in Handan, Hebei, Aug. 13, 2020.

Local authorities in China are scrambling to implement a presidential political campaign against food waste, as the country struggles to address food security concerns.

Authorities in Shanghai recently set-up a reporting hotline for anyone to inform on wasteful practices at restaurants, banquets, or lavish catering events.

The move came after ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary Xi Jinping ordered local governments to begin a nationwide crackdown on food waste under the party's "spiritual civilization-building" program.

Spot-checks, tip-offs, and inspections will target business banquets, weddings and funerals, celebrity-related events, and other potentially wasteful events, the Shanghai municipal spiritual civilization-building committee said in an announcement on Aug. 16.

A Shanghai resident surnamed Ma said much of the wastefulness at official and corporate events is linked to corruption.

"There is a lot of corruption that is hidden ... and it's hard to go after the rich and powerful," she said. "Ordinary people are very economical."

"It's not that we want to be. We simply can't afford to be wasteful," Ma said.

Independent scholar Wu Zuolai said largesse is a key part of official entertaining, whether in official institutions or commercial companies, and could be addressed through market forces, rather than through a political campaign reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

"Xi Jinping was born in the Cultural Revolution and has background in the Red Guards," Wu said. "Now he is employing the same sort of political campaign approach to supervising things."

"He could have picked a market-oriented, more civilized way of solving the problem, but this is likely to be crude and political," he said.

The legislative work committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee is to study how best to prevent food waste, including whether criminalization and coercive penalties like administrative detention are appropriate, media reports indicated.

Broader concerns over food security

The food waste campaign comes against a broader background concerns about food security.

While China recently reported a bumper grain harvest in spite of disastrous flooding in the Yangtze river basin, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has also warned that the country will see a food deficit of 130 million tons by 2025.

According to U.S.-based economist He Qinglian, Beijing's concerns about food security date back to 2014, when China was the world's largest importer of grain, but have been sharpened by recent world events.

In a commentary broadcast on RFA's Cantonese Service, He said that the country is still easily able to meet food demand using imported sources.

But the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommends a 90 percent self-sufficiency rate for major grains, and China's rate is currently at 82.3 percent, He said.

China ranks 40th out of 113 countries in the World Food Security Indicators and 17th out of 25 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit's ranking of sustainable agricultural development.

"China's food security is a problem, but because there has been no major international conflict for nearly 30 years, the food supply has been stable," she wrote.

China has established agricultural supply chains around the world with the United States, Brazil, and more than 100 countries and regions, including Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

It does this increasingly by investing in overseas agricultural land and facilities, and is one of the three most active agricultural investors worldwide, He said.

But she said international instability caused by the trade war and the coronavirus pandemic have hit China at the same time as disastrous flooding, putting food security once more at the top of the government's agenda.

Reported by Gao Feng and Wang Yun for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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