7 October 2022

Opinion of the month: “Preventing food waste is our mission”

Jochen Brühl, the Chair of Tafel Deutschland e.V., a German food bank organisation, discusses the impact of current socio-political crises on the work of food banks and why state aid is also needed.

“Our “Opinion of the Month” feature is intended to stimulate debate, take a strong stance on important questions and provide a platform for (socio)-political issues. In light of current events, we therefore invited Jochen Brühl, Chair of Tafel Deutschland e.V., to voice his opinion in this month’s edition. As a food retailer, we view the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29 September from two different perspectives: Throwing food away runs counter to the REWE Group’s social, environmental and economic beliefs. Of the food we stock in our stores we already sell 98 percent on average each year. At the same time, we have been a key supporter of the Tafeln since 1996. REWE, PENNY and nahkauf stores donate their unsold produce on a daily basis. This type of cooperation has worked effectively in Germany for many years now, so any kind of legal requirement to donate food would not make sense. As Jochen Brühl outlines, there are other measures that would provide considerable assistance to the Tafeln in these straitened times.”

Emilie Bourgoin, Head of Public Affairs, REWE Group

“Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Tafeln in Germany. The first of our food banks was established in Berlin in 1993. There are now almost 1,000 Tafeln across Germany. They are still primarily funded through donations and operated by a workforce 90% of whom are volunteers. They prevent food waste and divert surplus food to people threatened or affected by poverty. Alongside partners like the REWE Group, we currently support around two million people in Germany.

There have been times when people have said that the Tafeln shouldn’t exist, that we entrench poverty and relieve the State of its responsibilities. There are still many voices that lament our existence. We begged to differ then, and we beg to differ now. Firstly, our food banks are a success story; they are a prime example of the difference that individuals can make and of solidarity in practice. Secondly, we are not content to just sit and wait for change. Instead, we are committed to doing something while at the same time raising awareness in society and politics of issues such as food waste and social inequalities.

Especially around the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29 September, we are pleased that food waste prevention has now become a mainstream objective in society. As part of its Sustainability Strategy, the German Federal Government itself has pledged to halve food waste by 2030. As the country’s oldest and largest preventer of food waste, it is good to see that others are also committed to ensuring that food is used for its intended purpose – namely, to feed people – and committed to managing our resources sustainably.

However, the current socio-political tension, which is more pronounced than ever due to the coronavirus crisis, inflation and the war in Ukraine, is a cause of great concern. As a food bank organisation, the Tafeln not only recover surplus food, but also divert it to up to two million people in Germany. This is the reason why we always notice changes in economic or social conditions immediately and at first hand. In recent years, we have had to witness people in high-risk groups being left to fend for themselves during the coronavirus pandemic and many people slipping into short-time work or unemployment. At present, we are seeing people who were previously able to cover their bills from their monthly income now being left without enough money to heat their homes. We stepped up to fill the gap when the authorities referred Ukrainian refugees to our food banks because they were unable to fulfil their duty to provide information and support quickly enough.

Therefore, on the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, and in the run-up to our 30th anniversary, I am calling for two things: Firstly, the State must contribute to the work which food banks currently primarily undertake with the financial support of business. It cannot be that, at this time of crisis, the State is relying on civil society and business. Individual, temporary project funding is not sufficient here. Secondly, it is essential to recognise and exploit the social benefits of food waste prevention. It is always good if food waste can be prevented. It is even better if this surplus food can also be used to support those people impacted by poverty.”

Jochen Brühl

Jochen Brühl

Jochen Brühl is the Chair of the Federation of German Tafel.

Tafel Deutschland e.V.

In Germany, over 960 Tafeln food banks collect edible surplus food from retailers and manufacturers and divert it on a regular basis to more than two million people affected by poverty throughout the country. Today, people depend on food banks more than ever before. Because of the war in Ukraine and rising prices, growing numbers of people can no longer make ends meet. Due to increasing demand and decreasing food donations, the Tafeln are in urgent need of financial assistance. With around 60,000 volunteers, they are one of the largest social-environmental movements in Germany. The food banks are part of the overarching Tafel Deutschland e.V. organisation.