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France's food waste law scrapped on a technicality

Niamh Michail

By Niamh Michail+

28-Aug-2015
Last updated on 28-Aug-2015 at 15:23 GMT2015-08-28T15:23:15Z

Last year 100 million tonnes of food was wasted according to European consumer rights group BEUC.
Last year 100 million tonnes of food was wasted according to European consumer rights group BEUC.

A law that would have forced French supermarkets to donate unsold food to charity has been scrapped on a legal technicality – but supermarkets are being urged to adopt it voluntarily and some have already pledged to do so.

Voted in unanimously by the French parliament in May this year, France's energy bill made headlines around the world because of one article in particular: Article 103, which would have seen all supermarkets larger than 400m2 required to give edible food to charity for human or animal consumption or face a fine. The article also prohibited the practice of pouring bleach over unsold but edible food.

But earlier this month the Constitutional Council ruled that article 103 should be removed for procedural reasons as it had been added as an amendment during the bill’s second reading.

In reaction to this court decision, minister for ecology and sustainable development Ségolène Royal called upon the retail sector to come together and commit to seeing through the article on a voluntary, contractual basis.

She also said that she would name and shame companies who did not want to take part. “I will make known which big names don’t want to participate in this contract. I don’t think that would be very good publicity for them, because French people are aware of the food waste scandal,”  she said, speaking in French at a press conference.

Royal was due to meet with representatives of the major retailers yesterday (27 August) to discuss the terms of a such a contract, while Auchan, Carrefour and Casino had already said they were willing to sign.

"Auchan is fully in favour of this pragmatic approach, which would be based on actions that have already been undertaken, as well as sharing good practices and structuring the process," said the retailer ahead of the meeting.

New bill on its way

Meanwhile ministers Frédéric Lefebvre and Jean-Pierre Decool wasted no time in proposing a new bill aimed solely at fighting food waste the day after the Council’s decision to invalidate article 103. This new bill would allow Parliament to take responsibility and legislate without the risk of constitutional censure, they said.

But the industry group which represents France’s biggest supermarket chains, the Fédération des entreprises du commerce et de la distribution (FCD) has spoken out against using legislative measures, saying they would create new restrictions and more paperwork, and that voluntary agreements were preferable.

The FCD’s director of agriculture and quality, Mathieu Pecqueur, said “We are already very involved in the anti-waste struggle. All our big retailers give to charity. In fact, our activity generates a small amount of waste.”

He also said that the practice of adding bleach to unsold food to make it inedible was marginal and exceptional, stemming from a need for retailers to avoid liability should an individual fall ill after eating rotten food.

The UN has identified reducing food waste as one of the most effective ways to achieve greater food security, saying that a one quarter reduction could end global hunger.

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