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China enacts food waste law, brings in bans for binge-eating & fines for leftovers

May 4, 2021

The Chinese government has passed a wide-ranging law aimed at reducing food wastage in the world’s most populous country.

Among the provisions of the food waste law are a ban on competitive eating and hefty fines of up to ¥100,000 ($15,400) for making “binge-eating” videos where vloggers “usually leave a lot of food uneaten and often vomit what they have consumed,” according to the state-owned Global Times.

The social media phenomenon of livestream eating originated in South Korea where it is called mukbang, meaning ‘eating broadcast.’ The Chinese term for the genre, chībō, means the same thing. Chībō has become wildly popular throughout China in recent years – though not without controversy.

The food waste law also introduces a fee which restaurants can charge to their patrons if they leave “excessive” amounts of uneaten food at the end of their meals. Vendors that “induce or mislead consumers into making excessive orders” can now be fined up to ¥10,000 ($1,540).

Restaurants that consistently waste “large amounts” of food face fines of up to ¥50,000 ($7,720).

The law was first proposed to China’s legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, late last year after Chinese president Xi Jinping described the country’s food waste problem as “shocking and distressing.”

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, restaurants in the country’s major cities waste 18 million tonnes of food a year, which the Academy estimates as being enough to feed up to 50 million people in the same timeframe.

While the Communist Party-affiliated Times claimed the “adoption of the legislation against food waste does not imply that China is facing an immediate food shortage risk, but [is] a far-sighted move for food security,” China simply can’t afford to waste this much food.

With 1.4 billion mouths to feed and issues such as a growing but ageing population, desertification of already limited cultivable land, and deteriorating relations with major food exporter countries, China is facing significant food shortage risks over the medium to long term.

The Academy predicts a domestic grain supply shortfall of 130 million tons by 2025, with China’s dwindling rural workforce cited as a key factor – meaning that the country can’t simply turn to traditional agriculture as a solution.

In recent years, investment has been pouring into China’s burgeoning agrifoodtech space, with much of it targeted at solving the country’s food security and resilience issues.

Released last month, AgFunder‘s China 2021 Agrifood Startup Investing Report found that agrifoodtech funding in the country rose 66% year-on-year in 2020 to reach $6 billion.

While most of that capital went to e-grocery companies, upstream categories raised a total of $1.4 billion, taking a 24% share of overall agrifood investment compared to 14% a year earlier. In particular, business models and technologies aimed at bringing efficiencies and smaller environmental footprints to farming – such as robotics and drones, farm management software, and biotech solutions – received substantial funding; while startups developing alternative protein sources with the objective of reducing China’s reliance on animal agriculture also saw a pop in funding.

However, solutions specifically targeting food waste reduction and valorization were notably absent from China’s top agrifoodtech funding deals last year – perhaps indicating a major area of white space for entrepreneurs and prospective investors to keep an eye on going forward.

Comment? News tip? Story idea? Email me at [email protected] or find me on LinkedIn and Twitter

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