Food waste: Why we had to make supermarkets give it away
Since I was elected in the city of Courbevoie in March 2014, I have been involved, like thousands of other elected officials, in the service of others. When you assume political responsibility, you become invested in rights and obligations. My election mandate allows me to derive no benefit or advantage; I always thought that politics was not a profession but an investment.
Following my election, and with the help of many friends, I quickly began trying to obtain a law prohibiting supermarkets from throwing away their unsold supplies, instead giving them to an association of their choice.
It was not simple. But this is not the forum to display my feelings or talk about the pressure I received. The only thing that matters is that the poor will soon be able to eat more easily.
So, after many adventures, the French food waste law has finally passed, and with rare unanimity – on 9 December 2015 in the National Assembly, and last week in the Senate. It was a unanimous yes from parliament.
I want to thank all parliamentarians of the left, right and centre, including Frédéric Lefebvre, Jean-Pierre Decool, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, Alexis Bachelay, Guillaume Garot, Alain Fouché, Nathalie Goulet, Xavier Bertrand, Angelique Delahaye, Joel Guerriau, Chantal Jouanno, Roger Karoutchi, Jacques Kossowski, Thierry Solere, Valerie Pécresse, David Lisnard, Bruno Retailleau ... the Republic is proud to have elected representatives who work together for the common good.
The story of the French food waste law
The story of this law started in December 2014 and January 2015 in Courbevoie. With friends and volunteers from my town, for three nights every week, we would collect unsold supermarket food from Carrefour Market Charras in Courbevoie, to distribute to needy people, especially the middle class and the homeless.
Following this experience, and with the help of my friend Mathieu Kassovitz, who is knowledgeable of this issue, we decided to start a petition on Change.org to obtain a law requiring all supermarkets to distribute their unsold food. Our French petition has been signed by over 211,000 people! Indeed, the petition has received more signatures than any other online petition about ‘ecology/agriculture’ in France.
Our ultimate goal is to see the law instituted in Europe and worldwide. Thus, backed by the French Red Cross and Action against Hunger, our second petition turned attention to Europe. The number of signatures now exceeds 755,000, and we are aiming to reach a million signatures.
Why a law?
In France today, we have:
* On the one hand, a middle class with increasing economic problems. Indeed, from the 10th of each month, millions of French struggle for money after paying their rent and expenses. In addition, there are more and more homeless on our streets.
* On the other side, every supermarket throws away more than 50 kilogrammes of food every day. This is unthinkable with the current economic crisis!
Our proposal was simple and effective: pass a law imposing or encouraging supermarkets to donate, every night, all their unsold supplies to the association of their choice. With a legal framework, there will be three consequences:
1. Every citizen can create an association and submit its statutes to the prefecture in order to obtain an authorisation. Having done this, he or she can then contact the store of his or her choice in the town, to obtain their unsold for distribution the same evening (as with our initiative in Courbevoie).
There will be two kinds of associations for the distribution of food: approved associations that can store food (such as the organisations Restos du coeur, Secours Catholique, Secours Populaire, Samu Social, the Red Cross) and approved associations that cannot store food due to lack of premises such as cold rooms. In such cases, the organisations would immediately distribute the food the same evening (like my association, Courbevoie 3.0). The authorisations are intended to reassure retailers and traders.
And if a supermarket refused, it will be a fine of 3750 euros.
2. Each municipality will inform the public about this initiative. This will mobilise many volunteers, exactly as we did in Courbevoie.
3. The surplus food will be automatically transferred to approved associations that can store food, which will help with their ongoing food drives.
This law, for which we fought for months, will enable more than 10 million people eat.
Becoming the first country to legislate on the scandal food waste (often through the use of bleach), France proves that the word ‘brotherhood’ still has meaning in our country.
We now call on the President of the French Republic, François Hollande, and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker to act. Today, there are more than 80 million people suffering in Europe we must think of. It is urgent to act.
Arash Derambarsh is author of Manifest Contre le Gaspillage (Manifest Against Food Waste) from Fayard editions. He is an elected representative for The Republicans on the city council in Courbevoie.