France became the first country in the world to force supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities and food banks, with its food waste law going into effect last Wednesday. French supermarkets with a footprint of 4,305 square feet or more will be required to sign donation contracts with charities.
Charities in France will be able to give out millions of additional free meals each year because of this law, as most of the unsold food will be donated to food banks and similar organizations. Supermarkets will also be forbidden from deliberately spoiling food with bleach before disposing of it to dissuade dumpster divers, a practice that was commonplace in France until the law was passed.
The Guardian reports that Jacques Bailet, head of the Banques Alimentaires food bank network, described the law as “positive and very important symbolically.”
“Most importantly, because supermarkets will be obliged to sign a donation deal with charities, we’ll be able to increase the quality and diversity of food we get and distribute,” he said. “In terms of nutritional balance, we currently have a deficit of meat and a lack of fruit and vegetables. This will hopefully allow us to push for those products.”
Greater balance in the diets of the needy will also be encouraged by the fact that the law facilitates the donation of certain foods, including name-brand yogurts, directly from factories.
Food banks and charities distributing this food will be required to stock the food hygienically and distribute it with “dignity,” i.e. in a proper food bank or center.
The law also requires schools to educate students about the fight against food waste and its social and environmental ramifications.
The law was passed last May by the French senate and last December by the national assembly, with rare unanimity in both houses. The bill was presented to the houses after a French grassroots campaign led to a petition, started by councilor Arash Derambarsh, urging supermarkets to adopt the policy. The official legislation was introduced after the issue was removed from the energy transition law, passed last July, and after work by Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal, who urged supermarkets to commit to the policy of their own accord.
Campaigners inspired by the French law are attempting to persuade the European Union to adopt similar, union-wide legislation, as well as to widen the scope of the laws in France to include restaurants, bakeries, and school and company cafeterias, particularly given that currently, only 11 percent of nation-wide food waste comes from shops and stores. A bill similar to the French legislation was introduced in the British House of Commons in September, and Brussels has introduced measures to reduce food waste by 30 percent before 2020, particularly in restaurants, by promoting the doggy bag, currently perceived in Europe as an unfamiliar American concept.
According to the European Commission, one third of all food produced worldwide for humans goes to waste. Much of this waste is due to misunderstandings regarding sell-before and expiry dates printed on food packaging.
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