Blog: Dean BestFrance acts on food waste

Dean Best | 26 May 2015

French politicians have passed legislation that bans large stores from throwing away unsold food in a bid to tackle waste.

France's national assembly has voted through plans to force stores of at least 400 square metres in size to give food set to be discarded or destroyed to charities.

Outlets have until July next year to comply; if they don't, they face penalties that include fines or even jail time for staff.

French MP Guillaume Garot, who tabled the bill, said the vote was "an important step in the fight against food waste".

On a blog, he added: "Much remains to be done. I remain fully committed to the fight against food waste to change the way we produce and consume, and contribute to build a more cohesive and responsible society."

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, there was some frustration among retailers. Michel-Edouard Leclerc, the vocal chief executive of E.Leclerc, one of France's largest grocers, questioned what impact the law would have.

"Obviously, I support measures that help fight against food waste and provide assistance to the tremendous work of the [charitable] associations with which E.Leclerc stores work every day," he wrote on his blog.

"Yet, [there is] nothing new if one refers to the practice of most stores, which is rather exemplary in this regard. Nothing new except that the policy assigns the actions of retailers and adds its weight of paperwork, control and sanction ... goodbye administrative simplification!"

Over 95% of E.Leclerc's stores work with charitable associations, he claimed.

Leclerc challenged organisations under local authority control - including school canteens and retirement homes - and "other sectors of the economy" to "do as well as retailers in the fight against waste" and said moves to penalise grocers should be extended to the foodservice sector.

The retail chief cited statistics from France's Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy that he said claimed grocers were responsible for less waste than other parts of the sector or households themselves.

"According to the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the major source of food waste is French households (67%), followed by catering (15%) and retail (11% according to the Ministry)" he wrote.

That one of the leading players in the French retail sector should express frustration at regulation being passed against his sector is obviously not a surprise.

However, M. Leclerc does underline the major challenge in any battle in any market against food waste. Households is where the main source of the problems lies.

That said, all stakeholders have a role to play and the passing of the Garot-led legislation will raise the profile of the issue.

Crucially, Garot says there are measures underway to nudge consumers, pointing at educational initiatives in schools.

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