Large French supermarkets could be fined for destroying unsold food, French parliament votes

The French lower house voted in favour of a law which could punish supermarkets who destroy edible food in a nation-wide effort to curb food waste.

FONTENAY-AUX-ROSES, FRANCE (MAY 26, 2015) (REUTERS) – Early Tuesday (May 26) morning, Guy, a volunteer with the Paris Food Bank drove to three different supermarkets in the Paris suburbs to collect crates of unsold edible food for distribution to various charities.

According to a new bill that passed France’s lower house Tuesday afternoon, big supermarkets in France will now face fines, and even jail sentences for destroying unsold but edible food, in a nation-wide effort to crack down on food waste.

The French Food Bank has been collecting unsold edible food from supermarkets for 30 years — in 2014 its 102 branches collected a total of 63,000 tonnes of food to distribute to charities across the nation, according to its website.

The organization relies on volunteers like Guy, who is retired, to collect food every day for delivery to charities.

“We have to be there around 9 a.m., that’s when the food is ready. It could be fruit… Generally it’s fruits and vegetables, refrigerated products like yogurts and a bit of meat, cooked dishes, things like that. The quantity varies each day. And these are stores we collect from every day,” Guy, who has been volunteering at the Food Bank for five years, said.

Food lost by farmers, processors, restaurants, retailers and ultimately, consumers, is a growing problem with economic, social and environmental implications.

The European Commission has proposed that member states develop national food waste prevention strategies with the aim of reducing such waste by at least 30 percent by 2025.

As part of a broader law on energy and the environment, the French government agreed on Thursday (May 21) to include a provision requiring supermarkets of over 400 square meters to sign contracts by July 2016 to donate unsold but edible food to charities or for use as animal feed or farming compost.

Failure to comply could expose market managers to two years in jail and fines of 75,000 euros ($83,850).

While the French Food Bank commended in a statement the government’s efforts to prevent food waste, the bill’s effects will primarily be seen in smaller French villages, as opposed to the capital, according to the vice president of the Paris branch.

“For us in the Parisian region, we have enormous potential because there’s a huge number of supermarkets, so we don’t have a supply problem with supermarkets. However, there are food banks in the rest of France who sometimes have trouble collecting products, and particularly fresh products. And for these food banks, it (the law) will surely be a huge help,” Annie Neveu told Reuters Television.

The French federation for commerce and distribution (FCD) said it was a mistake to target just big supermarkets, which they said accounted for only 5 percent of total food waste.

French people throw away 20 kilos of food per person per year, costing an estimated 12 to 20 billion euros ($13.4 to $22.4 billion) annually, according to the Environment Ministry.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation has said that a third of all food produced worldwide — some 1.3 billion tonnes worth $750 billion — is thrown out each year, wasting water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River.

Food wasted in developed nations often ends up in greenhouse gas-emitting landfills, while millions of people elsewhere go hungry.

In Europe, Germany has been a leader on the issue. In 2012, the German government launched a “too good for the trash” campaign and the country has also pioneered “food-sharing”, using the Internet to distribute produce recovered from store rubbish while still in good condition.

French supermarket Intermarche has developed a programme to sell misshapen fruit and vegetables at a discount price in an effort to reduce waste.