Even though retailers in Croatia have been exempt from paying VAT on food donations since 2015, food donation has still not become a regular practice and large amounts of food continue to be discarded, participants in a round table discussion on food donation and poverty in Croatia said this past week.
Since the entry into force of regulations on food donation the value of donated food has reached HRK 4.5 million, however, that does not exceed the value of previous food donations, said Zoran Grozdanov of the Food Network.
There is enough food but it is thrown away because it pays more for possible donors to keep it on their shelves until the expiration date or sell it at major discount prices and throw it away than to donate it, said Grozdanov.
He said that an additional problem was that half the donated food was given away in Zagreb, where food pantries, the Red Cross and Caritas could reach donors without any problems, while other towns, like Vukovar, had less success with finding donors.
To illustrate this, Irena Rajsic of the humanitarian association "Duga" from Vukovar said that over the past two weeks destitute residents of Vukovar were given a litre of edible oil and ten eggs in the local food pantry.
Grozdanov said that regulations on food donation were aimed at encouraging donors to donate food so as to avoid the cost of its destruction and to demonstrate social responsibility.
"If one in five people lives in poverty, the need for food donations is huge and if more food was donated, there would not be any hungry people," he said, adding that his association expected food donation to be a priority for the new government and the new agriculture minister to receive its representatives for talks already at the start of the new government's term.
Croatian member of the European Parliament Marijana Petir called for adopting regulations that would facilitate the operation of food pantries and enable destitute people to access food, noting that 70-90 kilograms of food per capita was thrown away annually.
She said that donated food arrived at food pantries from retail chains 24 hours before its expiration date due to complicated donation procedure and called for amending the relevant regulations and for improving communication with retail chains in order to encourage them to donate food within a more reasonable time period.
Tina Debeljak, who heads a Red Cross food bank in Zagreb, said the main problem was the fact that food pantries did not have sufficient capacity to store donated food.
The president of the Croatian Network Against Poverty, Nino Zganec, said that he did not consider retailers socially insensitive.
"There is a high degree of solidarity among Croatians, pressure is being put on producers, and there is also a growing awareness that a lot of food is wasted and that food could be redistributed in a better way," said Zganec.
According to EU statistics, around 25% of EU residents live in poverty.
More than 18,000 children in the world die of hunger every day and in the period from 2007 to 2012 the child poverty rate increased in as many as 19 of the 28 EU countries, said Zganec.
One third of food produced globally is thrown away, and according to some pessimistic estimates, as much as half the produced food goes to waste, he said.
A total of 88 million tonnes of food or 865 kilograms of food per capita are thrown away in Europe annually, mostly in households, it was said during the round table discussion.
Participants in the event agreed that it was necessary to devise a good system of food donation and set up a body that would coordinate activities between potential donors, agencies and end-users.