France's food waste ban: One year on

By Louis Gore-Langton

- Last updated on GMT

France's law can only ensure 1% of surplus supermarket food is donated ©iStock
France's law can only ensure 1% of surplus supermarket food is donated ©iStock

Related tags Food waste European union

Has the French system of penalties for supermarkets wasting surplus food really worked? 

A year ago last month, the French parliament voted unanimously to fine supermarkets which throw away food products that are either edible or usable as animal feed. All supermarkets with an area of 400m2 or more were expected to sign contracts with charities by July of 2016, agreeing to terms of regular donation.

Punishments for those caught breaking the rules were set as fines from €3,750 up to €75,000 or two years in prison.

If food waste were a country, remarked French consumer group QueChoisir, it would be the third largest producer of global greenhouse gases.

In a recent report​, QueChoisir gave an analysis of the French law and its effects one year on.

A year wasted?

Despite the new law, many feel that regulation will remain ineffective until proper government support is provided across the supply chain.

Iseult Ward, founder of popular Irish food waste app FoodCloud​ ​said no solution, such as France's law, can truly be effective in isolation.

Supermarkets and their partner charities are in dire need of better redistribution services. Proper transportation services which can collect and deliver at the right times, with cooling facilities for the food are essential, but come at a cost which is difficult to cover.

A study showed that in the French province of Isère, less than 24% of total surplus food ended up with the partner charities.

A report​ by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) in January of this year slammed the European Commission’s efforts to tackle food waste, saying work had been ‘intermittent and fragmented’, and lacked even a concise definition of what should count as Food Waste.

The same report highlighted the French law’s failure to set an amount of surplus that must be donated. If a supermarket redistributes even 1% of its surplus food, it is complying with the law.

This gives supermarkets a cheap and easy way of circumventing the rules by donating insignificant amounts.

Thibaut Turchet of the anti-food waste organisation Zerowaste, commented that the law at least raises general public awareness and lays the ground for further change.

An inversion of the French system was created in Italy, offering incentives to restaurants and supermarkets for the amount of otherwise wasted food they salvage. However, a similar law has existed in France since 1988, giving companies a tax reduction of 60% of the value of all donated foods. 

Given the damning judgements of the ECA however, these measures - as with the French penalty system - can only do so much, and evidently not enough. 

First for food waste law

France was the first country to pass such a punitive law amid the food waste epidemic, which in Europe produces around 88 million tonnes per year and in 2016 was estimated to have costed €143bn.

These numbers are set to rise; by 2020 Europe will throw away at least 120 million tonnes of otherwise usable food every year. The global cost of such waste is thought to currently be around €629bn. 

Related topics Policy Food waste Sustainability

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