On January 13, 2016, France became the first country in the world to pass a law requiring supermarkets to donate food that is approaching its expiration date instead of food waste. The regulation that applies to supermarkets over 4,000 square feet requires stores to sign donation contracts with local food banks.
The law also makes it illegal for stores to pour bleach or water over nearly expired food, or store it inside locked warehouses until it is picked up by garbage trucks. These extreme measures are often undertaken by supermarkets to prevent the hungry from foraging through the trash bins.
Though that may appear cruel, the stores claim they do it to avoid potential food poisoning that could occur if the product is way past its expiry. Supermarkets that do not obey the new law face the risk of hefty fines.
Also, manufacturers producing perishable private label products like yogurt or milk for supermarkets, are now allowed to donate excess goods directly to the food banks. Though they have always been able to do that, the current process is long and complicated, making it difficult for manufacturers to give away the food in a timely manner.
The law also requires the charities receiving the donations to store the food in a hygienic manner and, more importantly, give it out with ‘dignity.’ This means that they should distribute it to people in need from a food bank or center where they can interact with them, instead of just handing it out on the streets.
France’s food banks are of course thrilled about the possibility of receiving extra food, especially scarce perishables like meat, vegetables, and fruit. Jacques Bailet, who heads a network of French food banks called the Banques Alimentaires, says that of the 110,000 tons of goods received annually, only 36,000 tons comes from supermarkets. Bailet estimates that just a 15% increase in supermarket donations would translate to over 10 million additional meals to feed the hungry each year.
Though this is a great first step, Arash Dermabarsh, the activist responsible for the grassroots movement that led to the ban, is not done. He now wants to extend the law to other sectors like restaurants, bakeries, and school cafeterias and also try to convince other countries in the European Union to pass similar regulations. These steps are necessary because of the over 9 million tons of food wasted in France, an astounding 67% is tossed out by consumers, with supermarkets and restaurants making up the rest.
Sadly enough, the statistics are similar in industrialized countries as well. That is why we all need to do our share to curb the over 1.3 billion tons of perfectly good food that ends in our landfills annually! This will not just help feed the less fortunate, but also aid in our fight against global warming. An added bonus? It will save the world billions of dollars!