France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks. This is a move which Sri Lankan establishments can learn much from and policymakers can implement to reduce food vulnerable people.
Under a law passed unanimously by the French senate, as of Wednesday large shops will no longer bin good quality food approaching its best-before date. Charities will be able to give out millions more free meals each year to people struggling to afford to eat.
The law follows a grassroots campaign in France by shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. The campaign, which led to a petition, was started by the councillor Arash Derambarsh. In December a bill on the issue passed through the national assembly, having been introduced by the former food industry minister Guillaume Garot.
Campaigners now hope to persuade the EU to adopt similar legislation across member states.
The law has been welcomed by food banks, which will now begin the task of finding the extra volunteers, lorries, warehouses and fridge space to deal with an increase in donations from shops and food companies.
Supermarkets will also be barred from deliberately spoiling food in order to stop it being eaten by people foraging in stores’ bins. In recent years, growing numbers of families, students, unemployed and homeless people in France have been foraging in supermarket bins at night to feed themselves. People have been finding edible products thrown out just as their best-before dates approached.
Some supermarkets doused binned food in bleach, reportedly to prevent food poisoning from items taken from bins. Other supermarkets deliberately binned food in locked warehouses for collection by refuse trucks.
Until now French food banks received 100,000 tonnes of donated goods, 35,000 tonnes of which came from supermarkets. Even a 15% increase in food coming from supermarkets would mean 10 million more meals being handed out each year.
Food banks and charities will, for their part, be obliged to collect and stock the food in properly hygienic conditions and distribute it with “dignity”. This means the food must be given out at a proper food bank or centre, where human contact and conversation is fostered, rather than, for example, simply organised as handouts on the street.
Crucially the law will also make it simpler for the food industry to give some excess products directly to food banks from factories. Until now, if a dairy factory made yoghurts carrying the brand name of a supermarket, it had been a long, complex process to donate any excess to charity. Now it would be faster and easier to donate.
Hundreds of kilos of food are wasted in Sri Lanka each day. Post-harvest losses are an estimated 40% of all food produced and made worse by the lack of refrigeration at most economic centres island-wide. If these and supermarkets were encouraged to distribute food to organisations that can move it efficiently to reach poor people it would benefit thousands.