France to force big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities


Guardian article highlighting new tactic to tackle food waste in France – see original here.

Legislation barring stores from spoiling and throwing away food is aimed at tackling epidemic of waste alongside food poverty

 According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20kg-30kg of food a year – 7kg of which is still in its wrapping.

The French national assembly voted unanimously to pass the legislation asFrance battles an epidemic of wasted food that has highlighted the divide between giant food firms and people who are struggling to eat.

Supermarkets will be barred from deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.

“It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods,” said the Socialist deputy Guillaume Garot, a former food minister who proposed the bill.

In recent years, French media have highlighted how poor families, students, unemployed or homeless people often stealthily forage in supermarket bins at night to feed themselves, able to survive on edible products which had been thrown out just as their best-before dates approached.

But some supermarkets doused binned food in bleach to prevent potential food-poisoning by eating food from bins. Other supermarkets deliberately binned food in locked warehouses for collection by refuse trucks to stop scavengers.

The practice of foraging in supermarket bins is not without risk – some people picking through rotten fruit and rubbish to reach yoghurts, cheese platters or readymade pizzas have been stopped by police and faced criminal action for theft. In 2011, a 59-year-old father of six working for the minimum wage at a Monoprix supermarket in Marseille almost lost his job after a colleague called security when they saw him pick six melons and two lettuces out of a bin.

Pressure groups, recycling commandos and direct action foraging movements have been highlighting the issue of waste in France. Members of the Gars’pilleurs, an action group founded in Lyon, don gardening gloves to remove food from supermarket bins at night and redistribute it on the streets the next morning to raise awareness about waste, poverty and food distribution.

The group and four others issued a statement earlier this year warning that simply obliging supermarket giants to pass unsold food to charities could give a “false and dangerous idea of a magic solution” to food waste. They said it would create an illusion that supermarkets had done their bit, while failing to address the wider issue of overproduction in the food industry as well as the wastage in food distribution chains.

The law will also introduce an education programme about food waste in schools and businesses. It follows a measure in February to remove the best-before dates on fresh foods.

The measures are part of wider drive to halve the amount of food waste in France by 2025. According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20kg-30kg of food a year – 7kg of which is still in its wrapping. The combined national cost of this is up to €20bn.

Of the 7.1m tonnes of food wasted in France each year, 67% is binned by consumers, 15% by restaurants and 11% by shops. Each year 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted worldwide.

The Fédération du Commerce et de la Distribution, which represents big supermarkets, criticised the plan. “The law is wrong in both target and intent, given the big stores represent only 5% of food waste but have these new obligations,” said Jacques Creyssel, head of the organisation. “They are already the pre-eminent food donors, with more than 4,500 stores having signed agreements with aid groups.”

The logistics of the law must also not put an unfair burden on charities, with the unsold food given to them in a way that is ready to use, a parliamentary report has stipulated. It must not be up to charities to have to sift through the waste to set aside squashed fruit or food that had gone off. Supermarkets have said that charities must now also be properly equipped with fridges and trucks to be able to handle the food donations.

The French law goes further than the UK, where the government has a voluntary agreement with the grocery and retail sector to cut both food and packaging waste in the supply chain, but does not believe in mandatory targets.

A report earlier this year showed that in the UK, households threw away 7m tonnes of food in 2012, enough to fill London’s Wembley stadium nine times over. Avoidable household food waste in the UK is associated with 17m tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.


Vote for veg! Our new government must take action to support plant-based diets


Rob Percival – 02 April 2015

Veg MarketEach year, we Britons throw away 570,000 tonnes of fresh meat. This is the equivalent of 110 million animals. Most of these are chickens. 3 million are pigs, typically intensively reared to minimum welfare standards. Over 200,000 are cattle. Globally, each year, 12 billion animals are born to be binned, an extraordinary waste of life.i

These wasted lives may also be measured in wasted water, wasted land, and wasted crops: the resources used to nourish these animals that could instead have been used to feed people. Philip Lymbery, author of Farmageddon, has argued that if all the grain destined for industrially reared animals were planted in one field, it would cover the entire land surface of the European Union. If fed directly to people, it would sustain an extra 4 billion.

This legacy of waste extends as well to habitats and forests. Thousands of acres of rainforest are felled each year to be converted into cropland for animal feed, devastating vast areas of wildlife refuge and releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Animal agriculture is consequently responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation combined.ii

These are daunting statistics. But they are also statistics that we can influence directly – the politics of food is participatory: we vote three times a day, each time we pick up a fork.

And growing numbers of us are voting for veg, choosing to cut back our daily meat consumption. The Food People, a global trendspotting and ideas agency, report a “seismic” shift in attitudes in the UK towards “celebrating vegetables and opting to eat less meat.” They propose that ‘flexitarianism’, or ‘less but better’ meat eating, is soon to become a “mega trend.”

A recent YouGov survey seems to support their suggestion. The survey found that one in three Britons (35%) say they are willing to consider eating less meat, with one in five (20%) saying they’ve already cut back their consumption. Tellingly, concern for animal welfare was the top reason given, indicating that eating less meat and eating better meat are two sides of the same coin.

Eating better meat means choosing to eat pasture-fed animals that have been raised within a climate friendly farming system, such as organic. Organic farming systems have been shown to help to protect carbon-rich soils and wildlife, while providing for higher level of animal welfare.

If ‘less but better’ meat eating is on the rise – and the thousands participating in last week’s Meat Free Week would suggest so – then we are perhaps on our way to becoming a nation of conscientious carnivores. But is the shift seismic enough? And when will Government step up and support those looking to eat and farm more sustainably?

Whoever forms a Government next month must make a concerted effort to support plant-based diets and climate friendly farming:

  • This means committing to a joined-up food strategy, aimed at ensuring that a healthy and sustainable diet is accessible and affordable for everyone.
  • Clear guidelines on sustainable eating should be issued, promoting the benefits of eating less and better meat, and supporting businesses to provide more meat-free options.
  • British farmers who produce meat in ways that benefit the environment, health and animal welfare should be supported and encouraged, and provided with a fair return for their efforts.

The millions of wasted lives, the wasted crops, the wasted forests, collectively add up to the promise of a wasted planet. Our new government must take action to support sustainable diets: we need nothing less than a fully flexitarian future.

Guardian Article – 10 drivers for sustainability in global food production and consumption


10 drivers for sustainability in global food production and consumption

See here.

At a recent roundtable hosted by the Guardian, experts from industry, research and academia discussed how to make the food system more sustainable. Here are 10 things we learned:



1. Waste less food

We’re getting better: avoidable household food waste dropped 21% between 2007 and 2012 in the UK according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). The average UK household still throws away the equivalent of six meals every week, but public concern with food waste has grown to be a useful entry point for talking about sustainability more generally. “It’s a lens to look at other food sustainability issues, and an opportunity to start joining things up,” said Mark Barthel, special adviser at WRAP.

2. Look beyond waste

There’s no silver bullet for achieving a sustainable food system. Diets, health, land use, labour conditions, energy, water, trade rules and farmer livelihoods all play a part. Reducing food waste is an easy win – too easy, perhaps.

“If you’re a company keen to improve your image, food waste can be a tokenistic way of doing that without looking at other sustainability issues,” said Tristram Stuart, founder of Feedback.

3. Meat matters

The resources embedded in meat dwarf other foods. Beef is particularly resource-intensive, with one recent study estimating that it requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken. Compared to plant staples such as potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even greater, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases. But global demand for meat is growing, and taxing burgers isn’t a vote winner. Can we change our diets?

4. Reduce post-harvest losses

The FAO estimates that as much as 50% of harvests are lost before reaching the market usually because of poor harvesting techniques and a lack of suitable storage. This contributes to high food prices and means the inputs are wasted too. “Around 95% of donor funding for food security is focused on production, but encouragingly we’re seeing more investment in reducing post-harvest losses now,” said Jim Stephenson, sustainability and climate change manager at PwC.

5. Revisit crop specifications

Crops are lost in developed countries too, not because of a lack of infrastructure but because so much is rejected for cosmetic reasons. WRAP has been working with retailers and farmers to address this and found that some specifications – such as the permitted circumference of a potato – were arbitrarily set decades ago. Re-assessing those specifications, and finding secondary markets for outgraded produce, can make farmers’ livelihoods more sustainable.

6. Strengthen governance

Food retailers are powerful. They can drive global food sustainability, but have also long had a reputation for some unfair practices, such as cancelling orders at the last minute. Last year, the UK appointed Christine Tacon as its first Groceries Code Adjudicator to oversee theGroceries Supply Code of Practice, which was introduced in 2010 to address such practices. Strong governance can support a sustainable food system in lots of other ways too. “It includes planning laws, trade rules, standards, land grabs, as well as the buying practices of supermarkets,” said Vicki Hird, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

7. Shorten supply chains

Food supply chains have become global and complex over the past few decades. Producers at the end of those chains can find themselves subjected to unscrupulous buying practices or poor conditions, in violation of standards set by governments or private sector players higher up the chain. That needs to change, and it already is, with retailers recognising that shorter supply chains with direct engagement are more transparent. “Risk moves back up the chain, but that’s part of doing business properly,” said Tim Smith, group quality director at Tesco.

8. Include restaurants and catering

The UK public sector spends around £2bn on food and catering services a year, and the eating-out market is expected to reach £52bn in value by 2017. Consumers increasingly want sustainability on their nights out, but restaurants need to catch up, according to Mark Linehan, managing director of the Sustainable Restaurants Association. “In our consumer survey last year, food waste and health and nutrition were the top two issues, and that came out of nowhere. But it’s not a sexy thing for waiters to be promoting.”

9. Focus on emerging middle classes

Asia’s middle class has been forecast to triple to 1.7 billion by 2020. In the past three decades, the number of obese people in the developing world has tripled with twice as many now living in poor countries as in rich ones. Rapidly changing consumption patterns are creating new environmental and health pressures in countries such as China, Brazil and India, and any effort to drive global sustainability in the food system must take these trends into account.

10. Allow cultural change to set in

The change in attitudes to wasting food may be partly to do with a general austerity trend. But can it trigger more widespread efforts to make our food system more sustainable? Some say a cultural shift is happening. “In other areas, such as transport, the connection young people have with their cars is diminishing,” said Trewin Restorick of Hubbub. “The financial crisis has shifted consumers’ psyche, and that’s a massive opportunity for wider sustainability issues. Gradually, you do shift societies.”