Why France's New Food Waste Law Might Not Work Outside France

Why the US May Never Pass a Food Waste Law Like France

A new law passed unanimously by the French Senate makes it illegal for supermarkets to throw away or destroy unsold food. Opponents of food waste say other countries should follow suit, but it's not that simple. Under the new law, French grocery stores and supermarkets will no longer be able to trash items approaching their best-before date. Instead of tossing these unused foods into back alley dumpsters, these shops will be expected to donate the items to charity. In turn, these charities will distribute these foods -- amounting to millions of meals annually -- to those who cannot afford to eat.

Any store larger than 400 square metres is expected to sign donation contracts with charities. Failure to do so could result in fines reaching upwards of €75,000 ($118,785) or two years in gaol. Stores are also prohibited from destroying food as a way to prevent so-called "dumpster divers" or "freegans" from foraging in garbage bins. As the Guardian reports, some stores were dousing tossed-out food in bleach -- supposedly to prevent food poisoning -- but more likely as a way to discourage urban foraging (which is gaining in popularity in France and elsewhere).

The new law also makes it faster and easier for the food industry to give their excess products directly to food banks from factories.

The legislation was inspired by French anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. They're now hoping to take the idea to the UN in hopes of getting other European countries adopt similar laws.

Each year, the French throw out 7.1 million tonnes of food. From this total, 67 per cent is tossed by the end consumer, 15 per cent by restaurants and 11 per cent by grocery stores.

While the French initiative seems like an idea that should be implemented in every country possible, it is not that straightforward. For example, in the United States 40 per cent of all food that's produced goes uneaten. In 2010, supermarkets and grocery stores in the US tossed out 19.5 billion kilograms, or $US46.7 billion worth of food. Much of this food isn't rotten or past its expiry date. According to the NRDC, if these losses could be reduced by just 15 per cent, that would be enough to feed more than 25 million Americans each year. NRDC figures suggest that one in seven Americans lack reliable access to food.

But as Edward Delman pointed out last year in The Atlantic, the situation in the United States isn't the same as it is in France.

Laws exist in the US to encourage food donation, including the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act, various tax deductions, and the US Federal Food Donation Act of 2008. But none of these laws compel stores in the way that the French legislation does. Charities and for-profit companies that collect and distribute food waste also exist in the US, such as AmpleHarvest and CropMobster. Collectively, these organisations provide food to 46.5 million people annually. As Delman points out, mandating food donations "could do more harm than good". He quotes a USDA official as saying:

The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult. If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody.

Given how many people go hungry in developed countries each year, it's clear something needs to change. Perhaps we should look to France and take some inspiration in what its doing.


Image: Foerster (A box full of recovered fruits and veggies from a supermarket trash bin)

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    Whilst the intention is good. Its the companies property and they should be free to do whatever they want with just as any person who buys something from a store has a right to do as they please with it.

      It's precisely this reason, the right to just throw it away, that this needs to be enforced. Once the food has become too old to sell, they need to be forced to not waste it, just because they can. The amount of homeless in the world is growing each year. As socialistic as it may seem, it's a step in the right direction.

    Good idea.......But Time Travel,is as well.

    Perhaps it doesn't need to be legislated. I believe all of the major supermarkets here work with a company called second bite who perform the service of pickup and distribution to charities.

    The article doesn't explain why it works in France but not anywhere else. It just says good for France, it's expensive and doesn't provide that much benefit in the US, they don't have laws mandating it (duh! that's the point, France is the first to have laws mandating it) but some places do it anyways. Way to explain it!

    If you go and read the Atlantic article, then you get the heart of it.. So what was the point of having this article which doesn't answer the question posed in the headline!?

    - In developed countries, businesses have gotten better and better at reducing waste, so in places like the UK and America, the biggest waste is starting to come from the people that buy the food and not using it before it expires, throwing it out, etc. NOT from the supermarket. In the UK, 1.7% of the waste is from retail, in France it is 11%. Their supply chains and efficiencies are different and even these vary from different regions in the same country (makes sense for geographically big countries such as the US and Australia).
    - The US has legislation that says that if you donate food and take reasonable steps to ensure it is safe, and someone gets sick, you're not liable. France does not. That is part of why they poured bleach on food and wanted to prevent dumpster divers, if they got sick and could show it was from discarded food, the supermarkets could get in trouble.
    - The US encourages food donations through tax breaks and has more of an existing system than France does. So, the same legislation applied in the US would have less of a positive effect than it would in France since it would take what people are already doing and works and make it uniform across the board which introduces the risk of it not working anymore.

      The logistics. Storing food, transporting it, insurance, paying someone to transport it. It costs money that business don't want to pay for.

    Nice journalism except you use tonnes for France and kilograms for the US making the state's food waste looks by magnitudes worse by needing to use billions instead of millions.

    There is no reason this cannot work in all first world countries. As it specifies food still in date. So if you've no access to said charities then discard of food when it's out of date instead of before. Simple logistics.

    Oh the good intentions, hell is full of them... why stop there? If you can make the world better by writing laws on a piece of paper, why not make it illegal to charge for food to begin with? Let's pass the Free-food-for-everyone-law NOW! Don't waste your time telling me I'm exaggerating because what makes my (obviously absurd) proposal to be absurd and condemned to fail is exactly the same that's wrong with this french law. I'll try to explain. It's silly to believe that things in the world exist separately from each other. The law may have a positive impact right in the first moment, when stores inventories are full with goods bought before and their prices to the consumer are also still the before-law ones. But once the law is running, goods that have a short lifetime (fresh meat, vegetables) will now have increasing complexity and cost to the stores supply chains, generating negative stimuli for the stores to buy, store and sell them. The extra cost will go to consumer prices. Also, stores that can not cope the extra complexity and cost will simply be forced to leave the market. On the mid term, the tendency is to see (1) Prices to the consumer increasing, (2) Availability of goods reducing, (3) Favoring of the big store chains, (4) Overall less stores in the market - leading to less competition - leading to additional price increases and lower quality and availability. Show me where I'm wrong.

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