The aftermath of the French Legislation on food waste – 26 May 2015
In late May 2015, articles, blogs, and newsfeed buzz quickly spread word about the French legislation freshly adopted by the National Assembly on the reported obligation for supermarkets to donate edible and unsold food to relevant charitable organisations. This achievement was the result of a yearlong study, led by Guillaume Garot, Deputy Minister for Agribusiness and Member of the Parliament. These measures have been passed to the Senate, who will vote on 10 July 2015. If passed, it will become law.
Following the adoption of this legislation, FUSIONS sought to identify stakeholder reactions and assessed the status of similar food waste legislation and voluntary schemes worldwide. Furthermore, a deep look at the original text of the legislation clarified several contextual points about the widely discussed food waste provisions. The following key points arose from this investigation:
A. This legislation is not stand-alone. In fact, the mention of food waste is within the umbrella of the French "Energy transition for green growth” legislation which addresses various other topics including provisions on renewables, CO2 reduction, and energy consumption at large. The amendments on food waste were integrated at a later stage, presently seen within Article 22 of this legislation.
B. Food waste-related amendments extend beyond targeting supermarkets. Food waste considerations were amended into several existing French codes, notably the French Education Code, which indicates that food waste (topics) shall be integrated within school lesson plans, to raise awareness from a young age. Furthermore, the French Business Code legislation added “the fight against food waste” amongst its list of environmental and societal considerations that a company should take into account.
C. Although prioritised, targeted supermarkets may not be obliged to exhaustively donate all viable unsold food to charities/organisations. Rather, supermarkets that have a surface area of at least 400m² will be obliged to manage their unsold food within one or several of the four recovery options outlined within the legislation, depending on food quality. This recovery prioritisation mirrors the EU waste hierarchy, specifically:
- Food waste prevention;
- Use of unsold and viable food (fit for human consumption) via food donation or processing;
- Recovery of unsold and viable food (fit for animal consumption) into feedstock;
- Recovery into compost for agriculture or for energy recovery, including biogas.
To address liability concerns, all retailers must sign over (via a contractual agreement) the responsibility for the donated food products with the selected charitable organisation by 1 July 2016 to avoid penalties including fines of up to €75,000 or two years in jail. Within this contract, quality and usability of the donations will be underlined; in practice, products can only be sent to charities before their expiration date. Although there is a real obligation to sign these contracts, the legislation does not outline the obligation to donate a specific percentage of their unsold food. For this reason, supermarkets could potentially choose to recover unsaleable food via composting or anaerobic digestion, rather than prevention or donation, if more convenient or cheaper for them while not necessarily exercising the contractual agreements with charitable organisations. Although contractual agreements with willing charitable organisations has existed in France in the past, it was not clear to all actors that these previously voluntary contracts indeed provide a mechanism for retailers to transfer the responsibility of their unsold food to charities. This legislation serves as a positive step forward in clarifying food owner responsibility.
D. A ban on the intentional destruction of edible unsold food may act as a positive driver for food recovery. In France and the UK, supermarkets have been known to pour chemicals on unsold food to ensure they are not scavenged before disposal (to ensure that foods are not consumed, as they are still legal owners of their discarded food). With the introduction of the legal measure (via contractual agreements with charitable organisations) and furthermore with the food recovery hierarchy, the legislation prohibits deliberately rendering viable unsold food unfit for consumption.
What about other countries?
Word-wide voluntary initiatives
Voluntary grocery and food retail store initiatives have been set in place by big UK retailers, such as Tesco and Marks and Spencer in light of cutting down food and packaging, however donation schemes have not yet been developed. For the time being, the UK government believes that any initiatives should remain voluntary. This view point is also echoed in Australia, where two food retail giants, Coles and Woolworths both voluntarily donate unsold food to charitable organisations (7.5% and 2% respectively per year), although the amount of unsold and landfilled food represents a much larger percentage, and furthermore its voluntary nature does not drive higher food donation levels.
At the EU level
In the wake of the adoption of the food waste legislation by the National Assembly, an online petition hosted on Change.org was launched in 7 different countries by Arash Deramarsh, the municipal councillor of Courbevoie (France). With more than 530 000 signatures gathered within a two week period, this petition aims at gathering enough public support, along with the backing of influential public figures, to amend food waste law within the EU circular economy proposal. Namely, these provisions would prohibit supermarkets from disposing edible food if an association is willing to recover it (for food donations). This councillor has made significant strides in a short amount of time, and hopes that the movement’s momentum will continue to escalate in order to close in on positive (EU legislative) results in the European Parliament by the end of 2015.
Belgium’s supermarket donation obligation
Although this EU-wide movement has recently begun, supermarkets’ obligation to abide by the food waste hierarchy (prioritising food donation) has already been set in motion in Belgium’s Walloon and Brussels Regions via two pieces of legislation outlined in 2013. However, even if it is reported that supermarkets in these regions are obliged to abide by this law in order to obtain their Environmental Permit renewal, little information exists on its practical application and on its impact on food donation and redistribution.
Reactions and looking ahead
These ambitious measures represent a significant advancement for French food waste policy, which strives to cut the national food waste stream in half by 2025. Critics, such as Jacques Creyssel, the Head of the French Federation for Commerce and Distribution identified this legislation as not going far enough, as supermarkets only produce 5% of the nation’s total food waste. It is believed that this legislation should be applied more broadly to include all food actors (i.e. restaurants –in part via the introduction of the “doggy bag” and households). Furthermore, accountable French supermarkets have expressed that although they assume the responsibility to hand over the donated food in an organised fashion, charities should ensure that they are well equipped with proper infrastructure (i.e. cold chain transportation systems) so that the donation hand-off does not administratively burden either party. Despite this mild opposition, according to a PERIFEM study, 42% of retailer-generated bio-waste is surplus food, which means that there is nevertheless great potential for recovery via donation. Relevant discussions on France’s evident step forward in the fight against food waste will certainly be on the fore throughout this year leading up to the 1 July 2016 contractual agreement deadline.
 Analyse détaillée des expérimentation en cours dans la distribution pour la collecte et le traitement des déchets organiques (étude CONVIS-PERIFEM-2011).