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New project aims to tackle food loss in Ontario's produce industry

Ontario Produce Marketing Association and Value Chain Management International team up to create food waste workshops

The fight against food waste has been taken to a new level this week in Ontario.

On Tuesday, the Ontario Produce Marketing Association announced plans to team up with a leading Canadian food-waste fighting company, Value Chain Management International, to produce and run a federally-funded series of eight workshops on food waste for Ontario's produce value chain.

Yesterday, a working group of two-dozen government and industry stakeholders will meet for the first time in downtown Toronto to begin discussing a sweeping food and organic waste strategy for Ontario.

"This is a very important initiative that will help to improve the competitiveness of Ontario produce," OPMA president Virginia Zimm said about the food waste workshops from Toronto's Ontario Food Terminal, where five million pounds of produce transit every day.

Hailed as a first in North America, the project aims to provide everyone from growers, packers and shippers to wholesalers, distributors and retailers with food waste-reducing skills and daily management tools.

"There is waste at every stop along the food chain (and) this project is about helping the industry realize that opportunities exist to reduce it," said VCMI founder Martin Gooch, a well-known Canadian food waste expert. "In fresh produce, waste typically accounts for 20% of all costs incurred. Reducing waste by one per cent can result in the equivalent of a 4% increase in revenue."

Gooch and Peter Whitehead, who has led similar waste-reduction initiatives in the United Kingdom and works with the UK's Waste Resources Action Programme—or WRAP—have developed learning materials for the workshops, which are being funded to the tune of $80,000 by the federal Agricultural Adaptation Council.

The workshop series will begin with two open sessions in Toronto on Feb. 8 and March 29.

By then, the province's stakeholder working group will be well on its way to developing a much broader strategy to fight food waste in Ontario.

Spun from last year's Waste Free Ontario Act, which identifies the province's interest in resource recovery and waste reduction and establishes new regulatory responsibilities for producers, the working group is being asked to develop a food and organic waste framework that will guide government policy and action.

Driving the strategy is an underlying desire to combat climate change by reducing the amount of organic materials going into landfills (and cutting the resulting greenhouse gas emissions) by 40% by 2025 and 60% by 2035.

"I welcome the government's approach," said Gary Sands, senior vice-president of public policy and advocacy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

CFIG is one of a dozen industry stakeholders on the working group, along with Food & Consumer Products of Canada, Grocery Manufacture Collaboration, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and the Retail Council of Canada.

Sands said he hopes the working group's discussions can lead to an industry-wide approach to dealing with food waste, rather than individual initiatives like the new OPMA workshops.

"I hope we realize this is an emerging issue like climate change and that we can work together instead of in silos," said Sands. "It would be great if we can develop a template that can be used in other provinces, so that we don't have to reinvent the wheel all the time."

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