British Columbia

Greater Vancouver Food Bank concerned over proposed tax incentives for industrial food donations

A proposed federal tax incentive encouraging grocery stores and restaurants to donate to food banks could end up overwhelming some volunteer-run organizations with products of little nutritional value.

Worried about 'bombardment of marshmallows, goose-liver flavoured chewing gum and pet food'

A proposal for a federal tax incentive encouraging grocery stores and restaurants to donate to food banks could end up overwhelming some volunteer-run organizations with products of little nutritional value says the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

"They include items like ice cream toppings, they include pet food, they include marshmallows as a food category and they include a lot of snacks and cookies," said Aart Schuurman Hess, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank or GVFB.

On Friday Metro Vancouver passed a motion to support a proposal for a federal tax incentive "for food producers, suppliers and retailers to donate unsold edible food, thereby reducing the environmental impact of food waste."

The motion comes from the National Zero Waste Council. It wants to reduce the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills.

Schuurman Hess agrees with the principle of keeping food out of landfills, but is worried local politicians aren't doing enough consultation to make sure any new policy that would deliver food to food banks is of use and not an additional burden for the mostly volunteer-run organizations.

"Hungry people need healthy, nutritious food," he said. "Up until now food banks have always measured their success based on volume and we at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank focus on the nutritional value and the quality of food that our people need."

$40,000 per year disposing of food

The GVFB says it already spends $40,000 a year recycling and disposing of inedible food it receives.

A recent audit of donations from two big box stores showed that 57 per cent of the edible food donations from one, and 40 per cent from the other, were of low nutritional quality.

"Absolutely we will continue to accept food donations but the fact that there's a lot of low nutrient products in that waste stream is not something that we want to receive," said Schuurman Hess.

The National Zero Waste Council — which includes a member from Food Banks Canada — says the equivalent of 300 million meals winds up in Canadian landfills every year and that 40 per cent of that waste is generated by producers and suppliers. Most cities and towns currently foot the bill to dispose of that waste. 

"This motion is really just kind of an approval of the idea in principle and there's a lot of leg work to be done to try and flesh out the policy," said Malcolm Brodie, who is the mayor of the City of Richmond, but also the chair of the zero waste committee for Metro Vancouver and the chair of the National Zero Waste Council.

Has to be some rigour

"We agree with the Greater Vancouver Food Bank that there has to be some rigour on the kind of donation that can be made for which you would get a tax receipt," Brodie added. "The charities are not interested in your chewing gum or your marshmallows. And it's not just a way to take your organic garbage and get rid of it and make it a problem of the food banks or other charities."

The GVFB wants Metro Vancouver to finish guidelines it has been working on with the BC Centre for Disease Control about which industrial foods are acceptable for food banks.

It also wants a change to the wording of the motion to swap the term "edible food" to "healthy and nutritional food."

"Rather than just edible food because that's just a very broad description of food," said Schuurman Hess.

Brodie says Metro Vancouver did add an amendment to its motion for the idea to be better defined as it goes forward to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' upcoming annual general meeting in Winnipeg in June.

He adds that the motion has been passed in other jurisdictions including Halifax, Burnaby, Langley, North Vancouver, Edmonton, Richmond, Gatineau, Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary.

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