The British Food Waste Reduction Bill… let’s not be a French cop out.

Today Kerry McCarthy MP is introducing her Food Waste (Reduction) Bill in the House of Commons.

The Bill calls for

  • Supermarkets and manufacturers to reduce their food waste 30% by 2025
  • Reinforcement of the food waste pyramid so that edible food waste feeds people first, followed by livestock before being sent to anaerobic digestion.
  • Greater upstream accountability by requiring supermarkets to transparently publish & report their food waste across all sections of the supply chain.
  • Supermarkets, manufacturers & distributors to enter into formal agreements with food waste redistribution organisations.

Four months on after the French Food Waste Bill.. what happened?

The relaunch of Kerry’s Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was inspired by the proposed French legislation in May mandating supermarkets to donate unsold edible food waste to local charities.

The French legislation made global headlines, instigated a wave of European food waste petitions & campaigns, and promised to be a historic turning point in food waste law & commercial accountability.

The law restored public faith that large companies and the government could and would do the ‘right’ thing.

Our critical response to the news raised questions about how far the law would go in tackling the problem of food waste at source, incredulous at the use of tax breaks to reward supermarkets, and concerns of the lack of support and infrastructure in place to support the charity sector.

Despite the media storm surrounding the French Food Waste Bill four months earlier, only 3 french media outlets so far have reported that last month the Bill was rejected by the Constitutional Council despite being unanimously passed by both parliamentary houses.

The food waste amendments had been tacked onto the Energy Transition Bill and were scrapped for ‘procedural reasons’ on August 13th. Namely, they had been introduced in the second reading of the Bill rather than the first and there was not enough time to consider them.

Instead the French Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development Ségolène Royal has resorted to non legally binding voluntary agreements with French supermarkets.

The French Federation of Commerce and Distribution (FCD) rather than embracing the opportunity for creating systemic change, have retaliated angrily arguing that retail only represents between 5-10 per cent of food waste in France, and have shifted the blame to households by claiming they are responsible for 75% of food waste.

Whilst all representatives of France’s largest supermarket groups agreed to the voluntary commitments in a meeting with Royal on August 28th, Councillor Courbevoie has critiqued the agreement as an ’empty shell.’

There are no penalties in place for supermarkets that do not adhere to the voluntary commitments, other than the vague threat from the government that the voluntary commitments will become legislation.  Which they should have been in the first place…

In the end, this is just another case of industry opting for voluntary agreements over legislation and getting their way. This means there will be no real accountability for firms that refuse to reduce waste and the government still has no real power to enforce.

On a positive note Michel-Edouard Leclerc, CEO of Leclerc, one of France’s biggest supermarket chains told Le Parisien last month:

“It is imperative to revise current, over restrictive, legislation surrounding expiry dates Numerous products could last well beyond their current shelf life but producers and distributors take excessive precaution preferring not to keep them on the shelves because of fear of litigation”

Conclusions:

Supermarkets are the public facing part of our food distribution system and have a key role to play in waste reduction from farm to fork.

At the moment all we are seeing is denial of this fact from supermarkets, clinging on to reductionist figures allowing them to side step their role in creating waste higher up in the supply chain and creating domestic waste by flooding people’s cupboards with confusingly labelled produce causing customers to waste edible food and buying more, making them richer.

Until this very simple and obvious connection is accepted by government and exposed to the public we will not see any significant waste reduction anywhere along the supply chain.

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