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Strawberry

On 21st May 2015 the French National Assembly voted unanimously to pass legislation to tackle food waste and food poverty. The bill, sponsored by politician Guillaume Garot, highlighted waste from retailers and followed a media campaign run by Arash Derambarsh, local councillor in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie, who decided to act after seeing homeless people searching for food in supermarket bins over winter.

The Background

In France, 7.1m tonnes of food are wasted each year. Of this, 67% is discarded by consumers and 15% by restaurants. Only 11% is wasted by shops. However, there has been increasing media attention in recent years to the issue of food waste by retailers, particularly as incidents of foraging in supermarket bins have gained a high profile.

As well as hungry individuals, activists such as the Gars’pilleurs collective, based in Lyon but active across France, have regularly retrieved food from supermarket bins in order to distribute it to those in need.

Some supermarket staff have previously tried to deter such action, for example by pouring bleach over discarded food, partly out of fear that their businesses could be subject to litigation if anyone eating the food were to become ill. Other retailers have approached the problem of food waste in ways that gain more public approval.

These include discounting rather than discarding imperfect produce, improving stock management, and innovating ways to use up plentiful harvests.

Summary of Measures

Measures to remove best-before dates from fresh food, also with the aim of reducing waste, had already been enacted in February. The May legislation further required all large supermarkets to donate unsold food (if safe for human consumption) to charities, and otherwise to pass it to farmers for animal feed or compost. Any large store over 4,305 square feet (400 square metres) has until July 2016 to sign agreements with charities and begin passing on unsold food. Penalties for non-compliance are a fine of up to EUR 75,000 or a prison sentence.

Criticisms of the Bill

While many are in favour of the new legislation, there has also been criticism. Jacques Creyssel, head of the Fédération du Commerce et de la Distribution, which represents big supermarkets, said, ‘The law is wrong in both target and intent, given the big stores represent only 5% of food waste but have these new obligations.’

The non-profit sector is also concerned. Jacques Bailet, president of the French Federation of Food Banks (FFBA), has pointed out that accepting unsold food in such quantities may require infrastructure that charities do not have.

Even the activists at Gars’pilleurs have reservations. They claim that the new bill is a sticking plaster that by itself will not fix a system designed to overproduce food or waste it during distribution. Thus, the Gars’pilleurs activists and the big stores are at least in agreement that the drive for waste reduction needs to look beyond supermarket bins.

Wider Change

Of the estimated 1.3bn tonnes of food wasted worldwide annually, the EU is responsible for 89m tonnes. MEP Angélique Delahaye, who introduced the May amendment, said after the vote, ‘It’s the first step in the fight against food waste in Europe.’ Arash Derambarsh has since started a new petition at Change.org, which seeks one million signatures from at least seven countries in order to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative – an official appeal to the European Commission to consider initiating legislation to ban supermarket waste across the EU. The petition has so far gained over 640,000 supporters. Working with the advocacy group ONE, Derambarsh will present the issue to the European Union, the United Nations, the G-20 forum, and the UN climate change conference to be held in Paris 30th November–11th December.

The Current Situation for Retailers in France

France’s new food waste measures have hit a stumbling block: the Constitutional Council, which checks whether new legislation is constitutional and if the correct procedures have been followed, has rejected the bill on a technicality, and it must now be redrafted over the coming months.1

Nonetheless, with the redraft underway, more waste-focused legislation in progress, and public tolerance for food waste by retailers falling sharply, it makes sense for stores targeted by this legislation to take the initiative and develop ways to eliminate waste of unsold food – whether through prevention, promotions or donation – at the earliest opportunity.

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Jim Cook
Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager
SGS North America, Inc.
t +1 973 461 1493

1 Proposition de loi de Frédéric Lefebvre et Jean-Pierre Decool Visant à Lutter Contre le Gaspillage Alimentaire

Further References

BBC News - Is France’s supermarket waste law heading for Europe?

The Guardian - France to force big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities

The Guardian - French councillor calls on Europe to adopt ‘food waste’ supermarket law

Rubbish Bin Robinhoods Go Viral To Turn Foodwaste Into An Activist Cause

Urban People - France’s Food Waste Law Gaining Traction Across Europe

The Atlantic - Should It Be Illegal for Supermarkets to Waste Food?

Food in the Circular Economy: A Proposal From the European Union

European parliament pushes commission to close the loop on circular economy

European Parliament backs circular economy resolution

Mettons fin au gâchis alimentaire en Europe! #StopFoodWaste