France’s move to reduce food waste

One of the things that always bugs me is the waste of food. This is especially the case with grocery stores that throw out tons of food because they have reached or are approaching the ‘sell by’ or vague ‘best used by’ dates stamped on them, even though the items may be perfectly usable. So I was interested to hear on last Saturday’s episode of All Things Considered a story about how France has passed a law that requires grocery stores to donate such items to food banks or face fines.

Across France, 5,000 charities depend on the food bank network, which now gets nearly half of its donations from grocery stores, according to Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires. The new law has increased the quantity and quality of donations. There are more fresh foods and products available further from their expiration date.

He says the law also helps cut back on food waste by getting rid of certain constraining contracts between supermarkets and food manufacturers.

“There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away,” Bailet says.

The USA is estimated to waste about 200 billion pounds of food a year. Could a law such as the French one work here? Some are doubtful.

Bloom says the French law is great, and he would love to see such a policy shift in Washington. But it strikes him as difficult, politically, especially in today’s climate. He knows Americans will be less excited about the government telling businesses what to do.

“The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you’re providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill,” he says.

The French law seem to have encouraged the development of a whole ecosystem of businesses that are helping grocery stores better manage their stocks and reduce food waste, although a formal review is still in the works. .

The label ‘socialist’ attached to this program will be the kiss of death in the US. You can be sure that the business community will object because it is so much easier for them to just throw the food away. Then there will be the ideologues who will say that it is wrong for the government to tell businesses that they must give stuff to the poor. We Merkins are free people, goddammit, not like those wimpy French socialists and if we want to throw our food away rather than give it to hungry people, then no one is going to stop us.


  1. file thirteen says

    It couldn’t happen like in France where the government can dictate (shock horror) what businesses must do, but a different model might work. If there was something businesses that do donate were marked with they could boast about, and if it was little or no cost to the businesses themselves, then they would all want a piece. Something like the fair-trade stamp for coffee, but even easier to take up because all you need to do to be part of it is to let charities take some of your waste away before you dump it.

    (Then again, when I wrote that it sounded reasonable, but if it were so, why doesn’t such a thing already exist?)

  2. Mobius says

    Socialism has some very good ideas, IMHO. It isn’t perfect. No system is. But it definitely has some good ideas, and quite a few of them. OTOH, capitalism has some good ideas, too. Unfortunately, it also has some really bad ones. The systems that work best are the ones that try to take the best from each. The Scandinavian countries are a good example of this.

    A few years ago on another forum we got into a hot argument over capitalism and its pros and cons. One of the issues was regulation of capitalism. I pointed out that the drug trade was an example of unregulated capitalism and the evils that can come from that. One poster got very upset and said the drug trade was NOT capitalism, that capitalism was X. I pointed out that the drug trade fit his definition X precisely. I went further and pointed out some regulations were necessary, and gave an example of Regulation Y. This poster came back with “that’s not a regulation, that’s a law”.

    Go figure. (Sadly that poster was usually somewhat rational. But there were some hot button issues he would go off the rails on. Capitalism was one of them.)

  3. file thirteen says

    The problem is how to make a government that is constructed in such a way that natural forces drive it to work towards everyone’s best interests rather than the best interests of the individuals that comprise that government.

    I’m open to suggestions.

  4. Jockaira says


    1. A good place to start would be to require at least three contenders for each elected office and to require a winner to have at least 50% of the votes cast. Require run-off elections to be done within 30 days of polls closing.

    2. Require polling places to issue a certified receipt for a voter’s casting of their ballot, and for that voter to receive a $50 tax credit on income taxes for presentation of that receipt along with their tax filing.

    3. Pass a Constitutional Amendment limiting contributions to political parties and office candidates from individuals and corporate persons to an aggregate annual sum of no more than $5000 with adjustments for inflation based on the CPI.

    4. Require no paid political advertising more than 60 days before an election and for all political advertising to include the person(s) paying for the ad, and for all political advertising to be paid for in cash upfront.

    5. Toss the Electoral College.

  5. mnb0 says

    “The label ‘socialist’ attached to this program will be the kiss of death in the US.”
    It’s also a lie. He’s more or less a liberal in the European meaning of the world. To some extent his views are comparable with Kennedy’s and Clinton’s.

    @3 Möbius: “The Scandinavian countries are a good example of this.”
    According to American standards the Scandinavian countries are full fledged socialist ones. However according to the authors of the Martin Beck police stories

    Sweden is as capitalist as the USA.
    Usually this discussion is essentially about the tax revenu to GDP ratio. The Scandinavian countries, Belgium and France have rates of about 0,5. The USA have 0,26. That’s about the same as illustrous countries like Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

    Something to remember when some fool calls those failed countries socialist.

    @4 and 5: a good start would be American politics not spending huge amounts of money on extraordinarly long campains. If we compare with France again, the European country that has the political system most similar to the USA, the campagin lasted all in all less than seven months.,_2017

    “EELV were the first party to hold a presidential primary for the 2017 election, with two rounds held on 19 October and 7 November 2016.”
    “The 2017 French presidential election was held on 23 April and 7 May 2017. ”

    Correcting this for demographics this is still more than ten times less than Clinton and Trump spend. Several other European countries (including my native one, The Netherlands), are still cheaper than France.

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