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France bans supermarkets from wasting food

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In a sensational parliamentary vote last month, the French government has taken decisive steps in its fight against food waste and banned supermarkets from throwing away edible food

Under a new law, passed unanimously by the French national assembly in May, any food approaching its sell-by date must be donated to charities or for animal feed.

It will also outlaw the now commonplace practice of deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be salvaged and eaten. Those supermarkets with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail, the Guardian reported.

Earlier in May Belgium became the first European country to introduce such a law.

And, it appears there is attitude for a similar law elsewhere. In the UK an online petition encouraging Prime Minister David Cameron to follow suit has received over 150,000 signatures. In the UK supermarkets have a voluntary agreement with the government to cut waste in the supply chain, but there are no mandatory targets.

Arash Dembash, the councillor who first campaigned for the law in France has promised to continue to put pressure governments in Europe and the wider world to follow suit.

He is planning to table the issue when the United Nations discusses its millennium development goals to end poverty in September as well as at the G20 economic summit in Turkey in November and the COP21 environment conference in Paris in December, the Guardian said.

The law seems like a common sense solution to a global problem. According to EU figures An estimated 7.1m tonnes of food is thrown away in France each year – 67% of it by consumers, 15% by restaurants and 11% by shops. The figure for food waste across the EU is 89mtonnes while an estimated 1.3bn tonnes are wasted worldwide.

But although the move may have been welcomed by environmental groups, charities and food organisations it has come up against significant opposition, not least from the supermarkets themselves, which believe they are being disproportionately targeted.

According to the Guardian, The Fédération du Commerce et de la Distribution, which represents big supermarkets, criticised the plan.

“The law is wrong in both target and intent, given the big stores represent only 5% of food waste but have these new obligations,” said Jacques Creyssel, head of the organisation. “They are already the pre-eminent food donors, with more than 4,500 stores having signed agreements with aid groups.”

Ellie Clayton