China’s communist rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), introduced a bill Tuesday that would mandate a government war against “food waste” that includes ordering guests at weddings and other public events to eat less.
The bill also demands regulation of online videos showing people, particularly young women, binge eating — an increasingly popular trend on Chinese social media.
The NPC reportedly seeks to crack down not just on civilians, but on local governments. If passed as law, the new regulations would limit the authority of local governments to organize large banquets, which have become common in some parts of the country. That mandate follows an embarrassing incident in January in which the government of Wuhan — one of China’s largest cities and the origin location of the Chinese coronavirus — attempted to break a record for world’s largest banquet, inviting over 130,000 people. The event occurred after local officials had confirmed community spread of a new respiratory disease and featured a crowd of mostly elderly — and therefore more vulnerable — people.
The Communist Party insists the regulations are not a sign China is facing significant food shortages. After a harvest season devastated by nearly nationwide flooding and supply chains hampered by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, however, many have questioned if Chinese officials have come to fear that the nation will run out of food.
The state news agency Xinhua noted on Tuesday that the NPC bill on food waste is 32 pages long and extensively regulates how Chinese people consume food. Caterers of large events would be mandated to use technology to monitor clients closely.
“Catering service providers should adopt measures to minimize food waste, such as improving management systems for food purchase, storage and processing, and putting up posters to remind consumers to refrain from ordering excessive food,” the bill text orders, according to Xinhua. “It calls on catering service providers to use technologies such as big data to analyze the needs of consumers to better manage food purchases, transportation, and storage.”
The bill would also regulate the individual consumption of food.
“Individuals should serve or eat an appropriate amount of food at weddings, funerals, parties and other events, as well as in daily life, according to the draft,” Xinhua detailed. “News media outlets are required to promote public awareness of preventing food waste, the draft says, banning them from producing, broadcasting or spreading programs or audio-video clips on binge eating.”
Individuals eating at restaurants would face a bombardment of propaganda within the establishment urging them to eat less. China would also mandate that restaurants serve sufficiently small portions, to be regulated by inspections.
The bill would mandate heavy fines on violators, including the potential shutdown of media outlets that broadcast content “promoting gluttony.”
The Communist Party propaganda outlet Global Times insisted Tuesday that outside observers should not interpret the bill to mean that Chinese officials are concerned about low food supplies, citing its usual Party-approved “experts.”
“Experts noted legislation against food waste does not imply that China faces an immediate food security risk, but it is a far-sighted move of preparing for adversity in times of prosperity when global markets for grain and agricultural products face uncertainty,” the Times asserted.
One of those experts insisted that China was “100 percent self-sufficient” in food supply but, “it is very important to make administrative and legal moves to tackle the problem amid the severe waste.”
Public discussion of a campaign against food waste began this summer, following the news of torrential floods and pest issues severely damaging the nation’s crops. Flooding in the Chinese heartland affected 55 million people this summer, prompting nearly 4 million of those to evacuate their homes. In Henan province, home to much of the nation’s wheat crop, farmers reported a 30 percent drop in wheat production. Elsewhere, wheat, soybeans, and corn crops also reduced dramatically. Rural areas saw entire fields of crops wiped out and abnormally high levels of pests like locusts, emboldened by the natural disaster, further damaging farms.
Food prices escalated during the summer and local reports indicated that the Party had begun to dig into strategic food stores to keep supermarkets stocked. China also reportedly increased its attempts to purchase imported grains and other foods.
Dictator Xi Jinping launched a crusade against “food waste” — identifying online binge eating shows as the top culprit — shortly after the floods began.
“Xi stressed enhancing legislation and supervision, taking effective measures, and establishing a long-term mechanism to stop food waste,” the Global Times reported at the time. “It is necessary to further enhance public awareness of the issue, effectively cultivate thrifty habits and foster a social environment where waste is shameful and thriftiness is applaudable, Xi said.”
Xi launched what the Communist Party called a “clean plate campaign” to pressure Chinese people out of overeating.
As it did this week, the Global Times insisted then that concern about food waste did not bely any concerns about food shortages.
“The initiative initially sparked speculation by some media over whether China is in a food crisis,” the Times noted. “Experts say the world indeed faces a food shortage, but for China, the real threat to food security comes more from food wastage than epidemic or floods.”
Unlike the Global Times, Xinhua reported, “floods in the south might have a great impact on grain production, and may cause ‘devastating production cuts and crop failure’ in some areas.”