The measures included a pledge to donate unsold, edible food to charities for human or animal consumption, end the practice of pouring bleach over unsold food and remove best before dates from certain own brand labels such as vinegar and sugar.
These were due to be written into French law, as part of article 103 of the energy bill which was voted unanimously by French parliament this year, but the article was removed from the bill on a legal technicality prompting France’s minister for ecology, sustainable development and energy Ségolène Royal, to urge retailers to adopt the measures voluntarily.
"We will take stock in three months to check that the commitments are being upheld," Royal said in a press conference. While there are no sanctions if the measures are not met, she said the supermarkets would respect the terms rather than risk bad publicity.
Yet the measures may still become law and a group of French MPs have already submitted a bill to that effect.
'A distraction from the bigger targets'
Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) rejected the need for similar legislative action or even a voluntary contract in the UK.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, told FoodNavigator: “The original French proposal, whilst an interesting debate, was quite frankly a distraction from the bigger targets of food reduction.”
Opie said the retail sector accounted for just 1% of the 15 million tonnes thrown away in the UK each year.
“Thanks to long-term collaboration between retailers, suppliers and government, direct government intervention [as] proposed in France is unnecessary here in the UK (…). All of this positive collaboration takes place on a purely voluntary basis,” he said.
Industry trade group Food and Drink Federation echoed Opie's comments. "We believe a voluntary approach works because it allows businesses to deliver tangible resource efficiency and associated economic benefits without the burden and cost of regulation. (...) A voluntary approach is also more likely to promote a collaborative, non-competitive approach which maximises the sharing of best practice and encourages innovation,” said a spokesperson.
Meanwhile UK charity FareShare said they welcomed the debate around the bill in France and were working to ensure movement in a similar direction in the UK.
“Although we believe that we need government support to make sure no good food is wasted, we are working to attract greater voluntary action from the food industry,”
FareShare’s Food Efficiency Framework, launched in June this year, offers companies a step by step guide to setting up a game plan for effective waste reduction and food redistribution.
The full agreement can be read here in French.