France is about to make it illegal for supermarkets to destroy edible food

All edible, for now.
All edible, for now.
Image: Reuters/Eric Gaillard
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Responding to startling statistics on global food waste, France has moved to ban big supermarket from throwing away edible food and will force the retailers to donate the unsold merchandise to charity, or to farms where it could be used to feed animals.

The country’s parliament passed the measure unanimously late Thursday (May 21) and included provisions that would make it illegal not only for grocers to trash the food but to make it inedible—for example, with bleach—so that it wouldn’t be taken by anyone else.

Food waste has become a matter of increasing debate in Europe. In the UK, three men were on course to be prosecuted for taking food from a supermarket dumpster, or skip, before charges were dropped in 2014. The UK also is home to The Real Junk Food Project, which has opened several cafes in which “skipped” food is served. One of its founders, Adam Smith, pointed out in a TedX talk that food is routinely thrown away, despite millions of people suffering from food insecurity and malnourishment.

“We waste over a billion tons of food worldwide every single year… I just don’t understand why we allow this to happen,” he says.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, an estimated 1.3 billion tons—a third of the food produced globally—is lost or wasted each year.

The French measure, approved by the National Assembly as an amendment to an existing environment bill, will now need to be voted on by the Assembly and the Senate before becoming law, but is likely to pass, according to the Associated Press.