A French Revolution Tackling the global food waste epidemiC

Famous for its gourmet cuisine and tempting delicacies, France has a respected reputation in the world of food. Last month, the country’s food industry stole the spotlight on the global stage once again, when the French government announced an official ban preventing supermarkets from discarding or destroying surplus food.

Thanks to the tireless campaigning of local councillor, Arash Derambarsh, supermarkets are now legally obliged to donate all edible surplus food to charities. Any food that is not fit for human consumption must be used for animal feed, composting or energy production.

In a world of a billion hungry mouths, Derambarsh described it as ’scandalous and absurd’ that perfectly usable food is being deliberately spoiled. While charities remain desperate for donations, many major supermarkets were found to be spraying bleach on produce approaching its best before date, in an attempt to avoid accusations of food-poisoning from foragers consuming leftovers found in bins.

In January this year, Derambarsh launched a petition challenging such behaviour. The petition gained in excess of two hundred thousand signatures, plus significant celebrity support. Just four months later, in a unanimous vote, the French National Assembly outlawed the disposal or spoiling of edible food by supermarkets.

Approved as part of a wider French law, ‘Loi Macron’, supermarkets occupying 400 square metres or more will be forced to sign contracts with charities by no later than July 2016. If they fail to do so, they could face fines of 75,000 Euros and up to two years imprisonment.

It has also been emphasised that supermarkets must not place an unfair burden on charities in receipt of these food donations. Food must be sifted before delivery, and charities must be supported to source appropriate storage facilities.

Loi Macron also plans to introduce an educational programme about food waste in schools and businesses. Former food minister, Guillaume Garot, prepared the bill. He described the new legislation as ‘an important step in the fight against food waste’ and named France ‘the most advanced country in terms of fighting food waste’. The country has publicised its aim to halve their annual food waste figures by 2025.

While France has set a pioneering example in the drive to curb food waste, the fight is gathering impetus on a global scale. In response to recent UN statistics stating that one third of all food produced is lost or discarded, national and international bodies are increasingly working together to address this catastrophe.

Arash Derambarsh certainly wants the new French legislation to be adopted worldwide. Alongside campaign group ONE, established by U2’s Bono, the Parisian councillor is preparing to take the issue of food waste to the United Nations when it addresses its Millennium Development Goals later this year. He also plans to attend the G20 summit in Turkey in November, and the COP21 environmental conference in Paris in December.

Spurred on by French success, the UK have followed suit in launching a petition similar to that of Derambarsh. Started by Lizzie Swarf, the petition implores David Cameron to introduce similar legislation.

‘Rather than wasting millions of pounds worth of food that is still usable, make supermarkets donate their leftover products that are still safe to eat in food banks.’ The petition also proposes the addition of a £2 surcharge to all online orders to fund the delivery service for donations.

Presently, the UK government has a range of voluntary agreements with the grocery and retail sector aimed at cutting food and package waste across the supply chain. However there are no mandatory targets.

The latest figures suggest that 52,000 families were formally declared as homeless last year, with over 900,000 people fed by food banks nationwide. At the same time, avoidable food waste in the UK accounts for over 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Here at This is Rubbish HQ we are currently making the final touches to our campaign that will be calling on the existing voluntary agreement; the Courtauld Commitment and its signatories to publish annual food waste audits, and work to ambitious food waste reduction targets. We also call for prevention to be prioritised over redistribution, as part of longer term change to prevent food waste, and challenge the government to deal with increasing levels of food poverty instead of the supermarkets. 

Watch this space and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with our campaign. In the meantime, join the fight against the global food waste epidemic, add your signature to the UK petition here. 

A huge thank you to award winning writer Jo Walker for contributing this post.