Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Increase food self-sufficiency, avoid wastage

The prices of staple foods are already escalating to worrying levels and a number of governments are resorting to urgent measures to address the situation.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director-General, Mr Jacques Diouf was recently quoted as saying, “The rise in prices of food commodities all over the world is not going to ease in the short term in view of supply-demand situation”. He went on to add that the world food situation is very serious, with food riots reported from many countries such as Egypt, Cameroon, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Malaysia has not been spared the effects of rising food prices — especially when it comes to some of the essential items such as rice, oil and flour. Our government has already announced that it will soon come out with a new policy on food security to ensure adequate supplies at all times.

It is obvious that we should become self-sufficient in producing food for our own needs in order to avert a future crisis in food supplies. This would be a good time if more farmers could adopt natural or organic fanning methods which do not depend on expensive and often toxic synthetic chemicals.

However, apart from this, there is the need to curb food wastage. It was reported in 2006 that leftover food constituted almost half of the solid waste discarded daily in the country. In other words, of the almost 20,000 tons of solid waste generated daily last year, 45% comprised of discarded food.

All major religions regard food as something to be valued and appreciated, and wastage is not encouraged. Immediate and obvious measures should be initiated to move away from such wasteful practices.

Our government leaders could start the ball rolling by strongly condemning food wastage and demonstrating the move away from this unhealthy trend.

It is fairly common nowadays to find official government seminars, conferences and meetings being held in hotels where an abundance of food is provided for the participants’ consumption. There seems to be an unending supply — breakfast for the stay-in or early participants, tea and coffee breaks with food spreads which can easily be mistaken for lunch or dinner, and the actual buffet lunches and dinners that offer food way in excess of actual needs.

The amount of food served at such functions as well as the frequency of meals could be reduced. Some of these functions could be held in Government buildings or public halls instead, where meals are catered in moderate quantities at lesser costs.

Overall, buffet meals are increasingly popular these days. Malaysians are known to take more than they need and leave the excess to be discarded. Customers who waste food at buffet meals could be billed for the excess food that they have taken but not consumed. There could even be some form of legal punishment for those who deliberately waste food.

Certain food outlets or hotels have a policy that food not consumed within the day is to be thrown away. Workers are not permitted to eat or take home any of this excess food. Better planning of the food quantities is required. Arrangements could be made to distribute any excess food to the workers or others who have a need for the food.

While new policy measures to ensure food security are being created, these immediate measures could be adopted, with everyone playing their part.