What Russian problems can be solved by foodsharing
Maxim Bogodvid/RIA Novosti
Every year, according to the most conservative estimates, more than 17 million tonnes of food waste is generated in Russia. All of it ends up in landfills, where the waste releases methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide, which contaminates the soil, air and water near the landfill. And this is while 7 million people can only afford to buy food. Activists and activists are convinced that food-sharing can help to overcome the problem by saving foodstuffs that have not been sold, but are still edible, from being discarded. In addition, this type of assistance to the needy is developed in many countries.
Foodshedding solves several problems at once, says Artem Metelev, chairman of the board of the Association of Volunteer Centres and head of the DOBRO.RU platform, who launched the relevant public initiative.
“First, the social problem – the problem of poverty. In all countries where foodsharing is developed, needy families living below the poverty line can get free food for themselves and their family members. In our country, according to official statistics, there are 20 million people living below the minimum wage. 400 thousand families are undernourished. This means that these people definitely need food. Some of them cannot even afford it,” Metelev told Gazeta.ru.
Another problem, he says, is environmental.
“Foodshedding, rescuing food, helps to preserve the environment: food will not rot in landfills and garbage dumps. And yet 17 million tonnes of food are destroyed every year. Thousands of tons of these harmful substances that pollute the soil, water and air. According to Rosprirodnadzor, the capacity of today’s landfills is enough for just 5 years. And if we do not change the legislation and start developing foodshare, then all these landfills will simply overflow, and then we will have to build new ones as well, resulting in much more environmental ones,” explained Metelev.
“All the negative effects of landfills that we are aware of: unpleasant smell, leachate, are the consequence of discarded organic, food waste,” Elena Vishnyakova, Deputy General Director of Ecoline Group, stated in an interview with Gazeta.ru. – It is very important for our country to have a working mechanism of fudshering, which will prevent the formation of food waste”.
“No companies opposed”
In June, the food-sharing initiative was supported by Andrei Turchak, secretary of the United Russia general council, and Nikolai Zhuravlev, vice-speaker of the Federation Council.
In mid-July, a round table was held at Delovaya Rossiya, where major representatives of the retail sector voiced their support for the food-sharing initiative.
“There are no companies that are against this initiative. Everyone understands how universal it is, and how many different problems it solves. All the major retail chains supported us: Azbuka Vkusa, X5 Retail Group – Pyaterochka, Perekrestok, VkusVill,” he says. – We were supported by restaurants, the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, the Retail Manufacturers Association, we were supported by various manufacturers – Coca-Cola, Danone, May Tea, the Rostik Group restaurant chain, IL Patio, Business Russia.
According to Metelev, talks are already underway with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Thus, both business and the non-profit sector clearly understand the benefits of foodsharing. Moreover, the necessary changes in legislation that would stimulate foodsharing have been supported by the Ministry of Economic Development, represented by Deputy Minister Tatyana Ilyushnikova,” Metelev stressed.
The main obstacle
The truth is that things are not so rosy. In Russia, foodshedding faces a problem – companies have to pay up to 20% of the cost of the product to share with those in need. However, if the product is destroyed, the state compensates the companies for VAT.
So it turns out that throwing away food is still more profitable than donating it.
“You have to admit, it’s very strange,” Metelev argues. – You destroy it, you get your money back; you do a good deed, you help people, you pay for it.
This is also at odds with the prevailing mood in society. For example, according to the Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Non-Profit Sector at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, 92% of Russians believe that food should be treated with care.
“I have just been to Solnechnogorsk,” said Elena Vishnyakova, Deputy General Director of Ecoline Group. – And there the locals were just complaining that a large retailer refuses to mark down vegetables that have lost their marketable appearance, and instead sends them to the rubbish. This should not be the case.
The problem can be solved by amending the Russian Tax Code accordingly.
“The companies we talk to say that if this VAT is abolished, they will be able to donate dozens of times more different food products to charity,” Metelev stressed. – Moreover, there is a provision, already approved in the legislation, that goods intended to fight the coronavirus are not subject to VAT if they are donated to charity. For example, to hospitals, social institutions or foundations. In other words, our state, our lawmakers have already adopted such a provision. We just need to extend it, including to foodstuffs”.
“A mistake that needs to be rectified sooner rather than later.”
“I do not understand why we unfortunately have such a tax barrier,” Metelev reasoned. – I think this is a mistake that needs to be corrected as soon as possible. Moreover, there is no shortfall of income for the state, for the budget. There can be no fraud here either because we suggest that this measure will be effective only for those nonprofit organizations that are included in the register of socially oriented NGOs approved by the government. Moreover, we suggest that in the first stages the volume should be limited to a certain percentage of transferred products. Thus, there are no opportunities for tax evasion or anything like that here either”.
At the beginning of the summer, the first initiative was published on the odobreno.team website. On the same platform, a documentary has been posted about the problems faced by fudshearing in Russia.
The “Approved” project itself focuses on social comfort solutions, which we will introduce at the legislative, cultural level, using the experience of non-profit NGOs, says Metelev, who is elected to the State Duma from United Russia.
In my opinion, in Russia, the lack of normal legislation stimulating food-sharing is preventing many people from experiencing this social comfort,” he continues. – Many countries around the world – the US, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Denmark, the UK, Germany, and Canada – have passed laws that encourage foodsharing with a zero VAT rate. The infrastructure is developed, some countries even impose fines for businesses that don’t hand over food but throw it away. And millions of people in these countries can get food for free. In our country we don’t have that. And this is a social discomfort”.
Amendments have already been made
“We want to solve it, and for this purpose we have teamed up with a number of foundations, non-profit organisations, in particular the Rus Foundation, the Giving Food Foundation and others to adopt this bill in our country, to form a culture of careful, responsible attitude to food, and to create conditions for developing infrastructure in the regions, so-called ‘food banks’ where people can come and get this food there,” Metelev stressed.
In his turn, Kirill Nikitin, head of the Delovaya Rossiya expert centre for tax and budget policy, reminded that in the spring session of the State Duma amendments were introduced to the law regulating profit tax calculation. “With proper control, with restrictions on turnover and with restrictions on the list of recipients, the amendments ensure that expenses related to the purchase of products transferred to food banks can be deducted,” he added.
According to Kirill Nikitin, the VAT problem can be solved according to the same scheme and with the same restrictions. “We are not asking for some kind of indulgence for charities, we are asking for a normal correction of the fine for transferring food to charities, to food funds. Further on, we can talk about the next steps, including mandatory regulations on cooperation with the food-sharing infrastructure,” Kirill Nikitin summed up.