Technicality scraps French food waste law
The much-publicised amendment to ban French supermarkets from destroying or disposing of unused edible food was dropped from the new law on Energy Transition ‘for procedural reasons’ by France’s Constitutional Council last Thursday (13 August).
In response, ministers Frédéric Lefebvre and Jean-Pierre Decool have proposed a law with the sole purpose of fighting food waste, while French Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development Ségolène Royal is desperately seeking a meeting with large retailers to discuss a voluntary agreement on food waste.
The amendment was unanimously passed by members of the National Assembly, the first step of the legislative process, in May, but the Constitutional Council, the body that rules on proposed statutes after they have been voted on by parliament but before they are signed into law, ruled that as it was a late addition to the draft law – introduced in the second reading rather than the first – there had not been enough time to consider it properly.
Under the proposed changes, supermarkets over 400 square metres in size would have been obligated to enter into formal agreements with food redistribution charities by July 2016. Any food past its sell-by date would have been sent for composting, anaerobic digestion or for use as animal feed, rather than being disposed of.
The amendment aimed to prevent the destruction of edible food and the reported practice of some supermarkets pouring bleach into their bins to destroy unused food and stop scavenging.
It also included measures to remove best-before dates on packaging and the establishment of plans against waste in school canteens and local authorities.
Speaking to Resource following the ruling, Arash Derambarsh, the councillor from Courbevoie behind the amendment, said: “We regret this decision, but we respect it.” Referring to political wrangling that has taken place over the amendment, he added: “Without losing any time, the parliamentarians Frédéric Lefebvre and Jean-Pierre Decool and Senator Nathalie Goulet have submitted a new proposition of the law that will unite Left and Right.”
New law to fight against food waste
The new law, presented late last week by Goulet, Lefebvre and Decool and backed by 26 other politicians, aims to further the fight against food waste by empowering and mobilizing producers, processors, distributors, consumers and associations through prevention, redistribution for humans and then animals and finally, use as compost or energy.
As with the previous proposed amendment, the brief proposal would see stores over a certain size legally obligated to enter into an agreement with food redistribution charities, rather than disposing or destroying of still edible food.
Introducing the law, the ministers explained the joint crises of poverty and hunger, noting that 100 food banks exist in France today, and adding : ‘There are millions of French and Europeans that appeal to charities or restrict, sometimes beyond endurance, their food expenditure…
‘It is the responsibility of national policymakers to take into account the social reality and to take measure that will meet the expectations of a growing number of our compatriots.
‘This initiative, which has distributed each time 10 to 20 kilogrammes of food per supermarket, is to be welcomed, but it raises the question of an applicable law, because today many large stores dare not engage in this approach on their own because the law forbids them, resulting in a France that is hungry, through intolerable food waste.’
Royal to meet retailers to discuss agreement
French Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development Ségolène Royal, meanwhile, has announced that she plans to meet representatives of large retailers on 27 August to discuss a voluntary agreement to bypass the postponed law.
At a press conference following the announcement that the amendment would be dropped, she said: “I'm going to meet with the retail sector regarding a voluntary contract that will undertake to apply the planned law as expected.
"It means the prohibition of destroying food stocks, such as bleaching, and the obligation to provide unused food stocks to charities. If this is done by contract [rather than law], very well."
She further suggested that retailers who do not engage voluntarily will be named publically.
Supermarkets angry at being targeted, but willing to discuss measures
Supermarkets in France reacted angrily to the proposed law, with the French Federation of Commerce and Distribution (FCD) arguing that retail only represents between 5-10 per cent of food waste in France, while households provide the vast majority (around 75 per cent).
Mathieu Pecqueur, Director of Agriculture and Quality at the FCD, said: “[Retail is] already enormously active in the fight against waste and is already the largest donor with the equivalent of 120 million meals distributed per year.”
Carrefour, one of the largest retailers in France released a statement saying: “100 per cent of our hypermarkets and supermarkets have already built up contractual agreements for donations to associations. In 2014, we gave the equivalent of 77 million meals to 800 local associations.”
However, both Carrefour and U System, another large retailer, have signalled their intention to meet with Royal on 27 August.
The FCD has said that it is “ready to discuss with the minister, but only if the debate is not biased.”
Intended law raising food waste questions throughout Europe
News of the amendment was well received by campaigners throughout Europe. More than 210,000 people signed an online petition started by Derambarsh, and the UK government has been under increasing pressure from food redistribution charities such as FareShare to enact a similar law.
Derambarsh has also started similar petition to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative, an official appeal to the European Commission (EC) to start legislation across the European Union to ban supermarket waste. It currently has over 630,000 of the million required signatures to force the EC to consider the initiative.
Find out more about the worldwide food waste problem.