Li Bing, founder of the Shang­hai Oa­sis Ecological Conservation and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Cen­ter, talks about food banks around the world


In 1967, the world’s first food bank came into be­ing in Ari­zona, United States, to col­lect left­overs from en­ter­prises, re­tail­ers and in­di­vid­u­als be­fore dis­tribut­ing them to the needy, ac­cord­ing to the Global Food Bank­ing Net­work.

Food banks are the most de­vel­oped in North Amer­ica and Europe where there is a long his­tory of char­ity un­der­tak­ings. Based on find­ings by the net­work, there are more than 160 food banks in 13 coun­tries in the re­gions.

Ac­cord­ing to Li, the in­tro­duc­tion of food banks to Asia has come relatively late be­cause of the de­vel­op­ment of NGOs, dif­fer­ing philoso­phies re­gard­ing shar­ing and food safety con­cerns. How­ever, food banks in South Korea, Singa­pore, Hong Kong and Tai­wan are cur­rently do­ing very well. “Through work ex­pe­ri­ence in the past two years, I’ve been to many

coun­tries to see how their food banks work to help peo­ple,” said Li.

Food banks around the world usu­ally re­ceive fi­nan­cial aid from busi­nesses, churches, and foun­da­tions.

In Europe, the au­thor­i­ties charge high fees for food en­ter­prises who want to dis­pose of prod­ucts that are past their shelf lives and this en­cour­ages com­pa­nies to proac­tively con­trib­ute to the food banks as they get to save costs and help the needy at the same time.

Car­refour in France and Tesco in the United King­dom are two ma­jor sup­port­ers of the food banks and one im­por­tant pol­icy in these coun­tries is that food is safe to con­sume even af­ter the “best be­fore” dates. For ex­am­ple, bread can still be eaten within three days af­ter their “best be­fore” dates. Canned food, on the other hand, is still safe for con­sump­tion up to a year af­ter.

When food items are not sold be­fore their “best be­fore” dates, su­per­mar­kets usu­ally do­nate them to the food banks and this act in part helps the gov­ern­ment pro­vide sup­port to the poor. These for­eign food banks also have a large vol­un­teer team to do the sort­ing of the do­nated food both from en­ter­prises and in­di­vid­u­als.

In some coun­tries in South Amer­ica, some NGOs will even charge re­cip­i­ents de­liv­ery fees to en­sure the sus­tain­able op­er­a­tion of the food banks.

Li said that there is a very ma­ture food bank sys­tem in South Korea that enjoys strong gov­ern­ment sup­port. The bank has also de­signed a smart­phone app so that all par­tic­i­pants in­volved re­ceive up-to-date in­for­ma­tion about the en­tire lo­gis­tics process of each batch of do­nated food.

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