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Surprising Science

France Is Feeding the Poor and Creating Less Waste — All with One Simple Law

France has introduced a law banning supermarkets from disposing of quality, unsold food approaching its best-before date. It will help reduce the amount of food waste the country produces while also helping feed the country’s poor.

France is taking action against food waste. The country once contributed 7 million tons to the 1.3 billion tons annually thrown out worldwide. Its lawmakers have pushed a bold, new piece of legislation that would help cut France’s contributions to the food waste issue and help feed those living in poverty.

Food waste’s impact on the world is both financial and environmental. It’s an issue every nation contributes to, but in medium- and high-income countries food, waste is largely preventable. The U.N. says that “food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain.” It’s the behavior of consumers and supermarkets that contributes to the environmental and financial repercussions food waste brings.

The U.N. believes “raising awareness among industries, retailers, and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for save[d] food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.”

France has become the first country to ban supermarkets from disposing of quality, unsold food approaching its best-before date. This will help benefit food charities trying to feed those struggling to eat. According to a 2012 study, reducing food waste by 50 percent at a global scale could feed up to 1 billion people.

Ruth Reichl, the author of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, says,“Our big problems are distribution waste. We don’t need to be producing more and more food. We need to be figuring out how to distribute it more fairly.”

France believes this fair distribution model should include those who can’t afford to feed themselves.

“Most importantly, because supermarkets will be obliged to sign a donation deal with charities, we’ll be able to increase the quality and diversity of food we get and distribute,” Jacques Bailet, head of Banques Alimentaires, a network of French food banks, told The Guardian. “In terms of nutritional balance, we currently have a deficit of meat and a lack of fruit and vegetables. This will hopefully allow us to push for those products.”

The poor shouldn’t have to rely on canned goods, which don’t exactly promote a balanced diet. Adam Ruins Everything explains why donating canned goods to food banks is (mostly) a bad idea:

Imagine if United States lawmakers followed France’s model. Food banks could treat visitors to more nutritional meals, helping to improve health and wellness. A waterfall effect starts to take hold, and a multitude of problems are solved through taking this step forward.

“In the United States, 30 percent of all food, worth $48.3 billion, is thrown away each year,” according to the U.N. This wastes land, energy, labor, and resources toward food that will just go into a landfill, which is the largest source of methane emissions.

The problem needs to be addressed at multiple levels, but passing laws to force supermarkets to do their part is one way to ensure we reduce our waste. The United States does have a piece of legislation that allows “in good faith” donations to be made by retailers: the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996. It protects them from facing legal repercussions if someone got sick from their food.

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We, as consumers, also have a major part to play in this issue. Everyone can help prevent food waste by not buying certain foods in bulk. Also, we can clear up the common misconceptions of sell-by dates and use-by dates. We should really think of them as more of conservative guidelines than a rule that: “This food will go bad on this date.”

We may need to confront the reality of our habits, and determine whether our reasons for discarding the food we do is justified:


Photo Credit: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / Getty Staff

Chart: PLOS ONE/ Wasted Food: U.S. Consumers’ Reported Awareness, Attitudes, and Behaviors

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker


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