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.