Many support idea, but legal experts say it is unenforceable
A pre-eminent Chinese agricultural scientist has suggested the government criminalize wasting food.
Waitresses clear tables, where plenty of food was left over, after a dinner for staff members from a State-owned enterprise at a five-star hotel in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on Sunday. The dinner included more than 70 tables at a cost of 3,900 yuan ($627) per table. [Photo/Xinhua]
"Our country has such a huge population and the arable land is very small if it is divided for each Chinese individual. … For years we agricultural scientists have been toiling to achieve an increase of 2.5 or 5 kilograms to the harvest of each mu (0.06 hectare) of rice, but after the food was increased, people wasted it," Yuan Longping, the most famous agricultural scientist in China, told China Central Television on Wednesday.
"Now I am proposing that the government make (regulations and policies) to encourage people to despise the waste of food and to treat it like a crime."
Yuan made the remarks after the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization launched on Tuesday a global campaign targeted at consumers, governments and the food industry to help reduce the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted around the world annually.
The goal of the "Think, Eat, Save" program is to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption, according to the program's website.
Yuan is well known for his contribution to the development of China's first hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s and since then has been called "the Father of Hybrid Rice" by Chinese media.
As of Thursday, Yuan's advice had been forwarded more than 16,600 times on Sina Weibo, the most popular micro-blogging service in China, and netizens responded by leaving nearly 5,700 comments, most of them supporting the idea.
"Currently, we only regard wasting food as shameful, but if Yuan's suggestion is realized, those who squander food will be criminally punished. I think it is a reasonable method to curb the disgraceful act," wrote a micro-blogger with the user name Wendaotianxia.
Another netizen, ElevenDie, agreed: "I heard that people in foreign countries must wrap up their leftovers in restaurants and this practice should be promoted in China."
Some celebrities also gave Yuan's suggestion a thumb-up, including Chinese actress Yuan Li.
"I am with Yuan (Longping). Now some of us waste food, but just several years ago we suffered from the lack of enough food. Next time I will directly remind those people of this fact if I see them wasting food in restaurants," Yuan Li wrote.
However, some said that instead of criminalizing food waste in restaurants, people should pay more attention to containing some officials' misuse of taxpayers' money on extravagant banquets.
"If ordinary people throw their money around in a restaurant, it is a private act. We can do nothing other than despise it because they are using their own money," wrote a micro-blogger named Lengyanhuakai.
"Wasting taxpayers' money on lavish feasts is what should be treated as a crime."
Other netizens echoed these comments.
"If we want to erase the waste of food, we should start by eliminating corruption," said micro-blogger Liu Hongkai.
Legal practitioners said the intention of Yuan's suggestion is reasonable, but found it unrealistic to make wasting food a crime.
Yi Shenghua, director of criminal cases at the Yingke Law Firm in Beijing, said it will be impossible to evaluate the amount of food wasted by an individual if the act is listed as a crime.
"And I think it will be very hard to determine the threshold of the amount of wasted food that will lead to the people that waste them being criminally charged.
"The misuse of public money on extravagant banquets has been listed as a criminal activity and should be severely punished, but if someone spends his own money on food and wastes it, it is more suitable for us to criticize him morally rather than criminally chastise people."
Yi said education and publicity campaigns are the right way to reduce the waste of food, and authorities should establish a set of mechanisms to uproot officials' extravagant banquets.
In addition to Yuan, other Chinese celebrities have also made efforts to improve the public's awareness of food waste.
Khenpo So Dargye, a distinguished Tibetan lama who has more than 970,000 followers on his Sina Weibo account, called on people to "eat up what is on your plates" on his micro blog on Thursday, attracting more than 6,500 fans to share his words.
More than 200 billion yuan ($32 billion) worth of food, which can feed nearly 200 million people, is wasted in China each year, Xinhua News Agency quoted official sources as saying on Thursday.