Firms donating unsold food should be exempted from liability if safety conditions are met: Public consultation

Liability waivers are crucial to make businesses and charities feel protected, said Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng.
Liability waivers are crucial to make businesses and charities feel protected, said Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Businesses that donate unsold and excess food should be exempted from liability - if a recipient gets food poisoning - as long as their contributions comply with safety and hygiene laws at the point of giving.

This is the view of over 80 per cent of more than 330 respondents in an online public consultation held between July 30 and Sept 12 this year.

Respondents also agree that both companies and charities should be given assistance, including grants to buy refrigerated trucks and blast chillers to store and deliver edible and fresh food to the needy.

These are some key findings from the public consultation as part of Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng's plans to propose a law that will help to reduce the nation's food waste problem.

He is hoping to introduce the Good Samaritan Food Donation Bill through a Private Member's Bill in Parliament next year.

In September 2020, Mr Ng set up a committee to pursue the issue. The team includes MPs Poh Li San, Hany Soh and Edward Chia as well as representatives from the food and beverage industry, non-governmental organisations and social enterprises.

If the proposed law is passed, this means that as long as businesses abide by strict food safety codes for donated food, they cannot be prosecuted or sued if someone who eats the food happens to get food poisoning, said Mr Ng at a virtual press conference on Wednesday (Nov 24).

Similarly, 76 per cent of respondents agreed that the logistics providers for food donation charities should also not be held liable if they have followed safety and hygiene laws.

These liability waivers are crucial to make businesses and charities feel protected, and spur more bakeries and restaurants to donate unsold items, he added.

"A lot of businesses are worried that they will get prosecuted if someone who eats their donated food gets food poisoning... they're saying it's too risky to donate," said Mr Ng who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on Sustainability and the Environment.

He added that the proposed Bill will include comprehensive food hygiene and safety codes by the Singapore Food Agency, for instance, that businesses must follow before they donate. Only then will the liabilities be waived.

The Restaurant Association of Singapore vice-president Dellen Soh said: “No one intends to throw or waste food or get pleasure from it. We all want to make the most of our food if there is a proper source to redistribute this wastage. Generally, restaurants are supportive of the proposed law if all parties are being protected.”

Mr Soh is also a member of the committee that is looking into the proposed law. 

Grand Hyatt Singapore Executive Sous Chef Steffan Heerdt added: “Hotels and restaurants would probably have challenges with timely and well-organised logistics, to ensure that the unsold food is repacked and handed off to a food charity in time, to be safe for consumption when it reaches the beneficiaries.”

The National Environment Agency currently has guidelines on donating excess food in its food waste minimisation guidebooks for restaurants, supermarkets and food manufacturers.

The United States has a similar good Samaritan law to help allay business concerns about liability when they donate food. France was the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food.

Mr Ng's committee is currently consulting with government agencies and ministries before preparing the first draft of the Bill.

"I don't want to introduce a piece of legislation that the Government feels is impossible to enforce or to regulate... This isn't a Government Bill, it is a Private Member's Bill," he added.

Once the first draft is done, it will be put up for a second round of online public consultation, before the first reading in Parliament. During the second reading, there may be a debate on the proposed law.

The law that Mr Ng is working on will be his second Private Member's Bill. The first, which proposed changes to an existing law to better protect native wildlife, was passed as the Wildlife Act in Parliament in March 2020, and that took almost three years of work.

In the online consultation, 50 per cent of respondents said the proposed law should require food donation charities to be accredited. Respondents said this will raise credibility and increase public receptiveness to donated food.

Mr Ng noted that the 50 per cent assent indicates that the committee did not receive strong support for accreditation, partly because accredited charities may need to meet additional criteria.

"A lot of the charities rely on volunteers to deliver and handle the food. (There is the question of) whether the volunteers have to go for courses, and course duration," he added. The committee will continue to discuss with the charities about accreditation, and polish the definition of being an accredited organisation.

Major food donation charities such as Food Bank Singapore and Food from the Heart are Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs), or registered charities.

However, other smaller scale or ground-up food rescue organisations such as Divert For 2nd Life and Fridge Restock Community SG are not classified as IPCs.

Mr Ng added that some of the restaurants he met with wanted the charities to be accredited so that they are assured that their food will be handled safely and will not get contaminated.

In the survey, more than 60 per cent of the respondents agreed that businesses should be allowed to claim expenses as deductions against their revenue.

Mr Ng said: "Some hoteliers also told me this might spur the hotels' senior management to donate food if there are tax exemptions."