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French say ‘non’ to food waste – should we do the same?

The French are a pretty innovative nation. They lead the world in style and they’re pretty good at putting ingredients together on a plate to make a stunning meal, too.

They’re also quite bold when it comes to innovative legislation. They don’t shy away from doing things others might regard as a tad ‘nanny state’.

The latest and most interesting is legislation on food waste. France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them, instead, to donate it to charities and food banks.

As of last month, supermarkets no longer throw out food that’s approaching its best-before date. Instead, they have contracts with charities whose role is to redistribute the food to the needy.

This legislation happened off the back of a grassroots campaign and petition from anti-poverty campaigners and shoppers. Now there’s mounting pressure for similar laws to be introduced in all European Union countries.

Food waste is a huge problem worldwide, and New Zealand is not immune.  It’s estimated that roughly one third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is wasted. The average New Zealand household throws out $563 worth of food a year, on top of the food that’s thrown out by retailers, having never been purchased by a consumer at all.

There are charities here working to solve this problem. Kaibosh Food Rescue is a Wellington-based organisation who’ve got a really great system set up, where they ‘rescue’ food that would otherwise be wasted from retailers and restaurants, and redistribute it to charities who have food banks or serve meals to the needy. In the year to June 2015, Kaibosh says it rescued over 139,000kgs of food. Groups in other centres are working to do similar things, and there are supportive retailers around the country who are happy to help.

But could we do more? Should we have a law that says to supermarkets: don’t waste food? It might make it easier for groups like Kaibosh, and it would provide even more food to people who rely on food parcels and meals from non-profit groups. Perhaps it would stop some of the wasteful practices that still go on in pockets of food retail. What do you think? Would you like to see a law like this? Or is it a step too far for government to tell businesses how to operate?

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First published: Mar 2016



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