France boosts efforts to tackle food waste

Up to half of the food produced in the world is wasted. [Amy/Flickr]

France’s Minister for Ecology, Ségolène Royale, has obtained a series of commitments from French supermarket chains to limit food waste. She also hopes to change the EU’s expiry date system for certain foods. EURACTIV France reports.

They may not be legally binding, but the voluntary commitments made by France’s supermarkets to cut food waste are a step towards greater sustainability in the food system.

Among the commitments in the agreement signed between Ségolène Royal and representatives from France’s leading supermarkets on Thursday (27 August), is a promise to donate unsold food from large supermarkets to charities. The agreement also contains a ban on the destruction of unsold but still edible food and the abolition of expiry dates from certain supermarket “own-brand” products, like sugar or vinegar.

Banning the destruction of food

“An agreement has been reached with the supermarket chains, which have committed to applying the article from the Energy Transition bill referring to food waste, that was removed by the Constitutional Council,” Royal told the press after signing the deal.

Originally included in the French Energy Transition for Green Growth bill, the requirement for unsold food from supermarkets to be donated to charitable organisations was struck down by the French Constitutional Council in mid-August, forcing the ecology minister instead to seek voluntary commitments.

>>Read: Netherlands, Sweden call for review of ‘best before’ labels

Ségolène Royal added, “We will take stock in three months to check that the commitments are being upheld.” She promised to use the legal tools at her disposal to ensure the success of the agreement.

The expiry of “best before” dates

Another part of the agreement is to expand the number of products without an expiry date. Today, only a small number of groceries are not required to have an expiry date on their label, including sugar, salt and vinegar. “But this list is managed by the European authorities, and changing it means taking the issue up with them,” the minister explained.

Under the present system, many food items with a “best before” date, as required under European legislation, are thrown away, despite still being safe to eat.

To update this list, Ségolène Royal plans to ask a committee of experts to make recommendations that will then be sent to the European decision makers.

A sizeable problem

While these new measures will help reduce food waste from supermarkets, a report by the French Member of Parliament Guillaume Garot, published in April this year, found that the majority of waste occurs in households and restaurants.

>>Read: European Parliament urges donation of supermarket leftovers

On average, the French throw away 20-30 kg of food per person per year, including 7 kg of unopened food. Over the whole food supply chain, this figure reaches a staggering 140 kg per person per year.

But the problem of food waste is far from unique to France. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that between 30% and 50% of the world’s food is wasted.

The figures for the European Union are hardly more encouraging: every year, 179 kg of food are wasted per EU citizen. If things continue as they are, the Commission estimates that food waste in the EU will reach 126 million tonnes per year by 2020, an increase of 40%.

But change is a long time coming.

Circular Economy package

The European Parliament called on the Commission in 2012 to take urgent action to cut food waste by 2025. A task the European executive had planned to tackle in the 2014 Circular Economy package, which set a 30% waste reduction objective.

>>Read: Waste laws will be binned, despite protests

Withdrawn by the European Commission in January 2015, this package also contained bills on the disposal of packaging, old vehicles, batteries and electronic waste. According to the Commission, a “more ambitious” version of the package will be published by the end of this year.

A Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that this proposal “will closely examine the options for limiting food waste”.

>>Read: Ministers want Circular Economy saved but back Commission’s better regulation push

The Circular Economy package was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill.

It consists of six bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electronic equipment.

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans was been given a mandate from new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to cut red tape and deliver “better regulation”.

He told MEPs in December that he would consult with the Council of Ministers and the Parliament before withdrawing and re-tabling the package.

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