With food waste being a key factor in China's national food security, the country's legislators and political advisors will explore ways to tackle the problem at their annual Two Sessions set to begin in Beijing next week.
Official statistics show China wastes about 50 million tonnes of grain annually, accounting for a staggering 7.7 percent of the country's total grain output.
"Compared with other products, vegetables rot easily. In China, due to the incomplete cold chain and excessive supply, around 25 percent of vegetable production is lost before reaching customers. Whereas in developed countries like the U.S., the rate is usually below 5 percent," Zhao Xiaoyan, a researcher at the Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, told CGTN.
Zhao is a deputy of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, and also an expert who has spent years studying how to store vegetables to keep them fresh.
China needs to feed 1.4 billion people. That means food security is always a top concern for the government. At this year's Two Sessions, legislators like Zhao are going to deliberate on draft laws to tackle food waste. The aim is to help the country build a legal system which promotes a green lifestyle and a green society, Zhao said.
According to Zhao, the 25-percent loss in vegetable production translates to around 4 million hectares of farm land being wasted. There's also the wasted water and agricultural inputs, making it a problem that needs to be addressed. As a scientist, Zhao tackles the issue through research and experiments.
She said the key is to standardize every step of the vegetable production and transport process.
"We study preservation technologies for different vegetables. Take broccoli as an example. If we store it at the ideal temperature and use the right packaging, we can reduce the waste by 10 percent. So far, our technologies have been applied in farmers' cooperatives and supermarkets," she said.
The main obstacle, according to Zhao, is that the supply of vegetables in China exceeds demand, resulting in the relatively low prices of vegetables in this country. Therefore, some producers are reluctant to apply these technologies, which would incur extra cost to them.
Nevertheless, Zhao believes this is a necessary step to reduce waste.
Since 2018, the nation has been campaigning against food waste. Diners are now being encouraged to finish their food as part of a Clean Plate campaign.
While steps like this may move the country in the right direction, Zhao said legislation is needed as well.
"Yes, a lot of food waste takes place in buffets, weddings and other dining occasions. But it's important to acknowledge waste also happens during manufacturing, processing and transportation," Zhao said.
Zhao said the pandemic is a wake-up call for food security. As international trade was nearly brought to a standstill, many countries, including China, are forced to think about self-sufficiency. This will not happen overnight, but reducing waste could be a big first step, she noted.