PARIS – The upper house of the French parliament has now approved a new law that bans large grocery stores from trashing food that is still edible. Estimates in recent years placed the volume of France’s annual food waste at one million metric tons per year, an average of nearly 64 pounds (29 kilograms) for every citizen of the European Union’s third most populous country.
The recently passed parliamentary measure is part of a 2012 goal set by the French government to reduce waste by 50 percent within its borders by 2025. The new law specifically applies to stores that are more than 4,305 square feet (400 square meters) in size, which includes roughly half of all French food retailers. Retailers will now be required to donate still-edible food products to charities, which will re-distribute the more palatable food to needy families, and forward the remainder to local farms to feed livestock or use as compost. The bill mandates that those store owners who do not sign contracts for routine donations with a charity by July 2016 will face penalties up to $81,750 (75,000 €) in fines or two years’ jail time.
The new law bans the common practice of putting food products no longer considered saleable into waste bins and soaking the food with bleach, making it unfit for consumption by “dumpster divers,” a group that includes poor families, thrifty college students and equally hungry homeless people. This now-illegal refuse theft-deterrent has been derided by the bill’s most ardent proponent, Socialist party parliament member, Guillaume Garot. “It’s scandalous to see bleach poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods.” Garot, who was France’s food minister before being elected to parliament, said in an interview.
The massive food waste created by the food distribution system is not unique to France. The United States discarded nearly 35 million tons of food in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, according to an Environmental Protection Agency study
on food waste. In 2014, Massachusetts banned the wanton disposal of edible food products by businesses that regularly threw away more than a ton (907 kilograms) of food on a weekly basis, becoming the first state in the nation to attack the food waste problem, according to the state’s official website.
Austrian photo artist Klaus Pichler is among those who have taken their outrage over the worldwide phenomenon to heart and fought to raise awareness. Pichler’s photography collection One Third
features 55 photographs of food that was discarded from grocery stores, has been exhibited in 11 countries spanning North America, Europe and Asia, including France and the United States.
“The impact of the UN survey from 2011 was a huge one since it was the first global survey on food waste. Since then, the topic has been discussed on many levels – from individual reflections on the issue and private activist groups up to initiatives from NGOs and even companies,” shared Pichler, whose One Third show was exhibited at a gathering of diplomats at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome in 2012. Pichler told Bindlesnitch, “This mixture of activism has finally landed on the plates of governments worldwide, and urged them to reflect on the food waste issue. France has been extremely brave to pass this law, and I hope that many other governments will follow.”
Arash Derambarsh is the Paris city council member who spearheaded the gathering of 200,000 signatures against food waste in France, which then led to the drafting of the recent bill in French parliament. He also hopes to see the legislation go global. “Food is the basis of life, it is an elementary factor in our existence,” he said in an interview with The Guardian
. “Perhaps it is naïve to be concerned about other human beings, but I know what it is like to be hungry.” Derambash plans to speak on the issue on multiple international stages, including a U.N. conference on global goals for the millennium in September and at the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey in November.
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