PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - France is cracking down on food waste with legislation banning big supermarkets from destroying unsold but edible food on pain of fines and even jail sentences.
Food lost by farmers, processors, restaurants, retailers and ultimately, consumers, is a growing problem with economic, social and environmental implications.
The European Commission has proposed that member states develop national food waste prevention strategies with the aim of reducing such waste by at least 30 percent by 2025.
As part of a broader law on energy and the environment, the French government agreed on Thursday to include a provision requiring supermarkets of over 400 square meters to sign contracts by July 2016 to donate unsold but edible food to charities or for use as animal feed or farming compost.
Failure to comply could expose market managers to two years in jail and fines of 75,000 euros ($83,850).
The French federation for commerce and distribution (FCD) said it was a mistake to target just big supermarkets, which they said accounted for only 5 percent of total food waste.
French people throw away 20 kilos of food per person per year, costing an estimated 12 to 20 billion euros ($13.4 to $22.4 billion) annually, according to the Environment Ministry.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation has said that a third of all food produced worldwide — some 1.3 billion tonnes worth $750 billion — is thrown out each year, wasting water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River.
Food wasted in developed nations often ends up in greenhouse gas-emitting landfills, while millions of people elsewhere go hungry.
In Europe, Germany has been a leader on the issue. In 2012, the German government launched a “too good for the trash” campaign and the country has also pioneered “food-sharing”, using the Internet to distribute produce recovered from store rubbish while still in good condition.
French supermarket Intermarche has developed a program to sell misshapen fruit and vegetables at a discount in an effort to reduce waste.
The new French bill is to be voted on by France’s lower house of parliament on May 26 and then be sent to the Senate.
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Reporting by Emile Picy; Writing by Dominique Vidalon and Martinne Geller; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Mark Heinrich