The French got it right

The French got it right

According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20kg-30kg of food a year – 7kg of which is still in its wrapping. Of the 7.1m tonnes of food wasted in France each year, 67% is binned by consumers, 15% by restaurants and 11% by shops.

Wasting food is not just a French phenomenon.

According to a report published this year households in the United Kingdom threw away seven million 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.

Wasting food is a worldwide phenomenon. It is calculated that every year 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted worldwide; while hundreds of thousands face famine.

Malta is no exception for food wastage.  In 2013 a NSO survey revealed that during 2011 while 36% of our population stated that they find it difficult or greatly difficult to make ends meet it results that just over one fifth of the food bought every week by Maltese households is thrown away.

Now the French have decided to move from talk to action to minimise as much as possible this scandalous waste. France’s National Assembly has voted unanimously to ban French supermarkets  from throwing away or destroying unsold food and must instead donate it to charities or for animal feed.

The decision is historic in itself but it becomes more historic given that the decision was taken after reaching of a very rare cross-party consensus. Supermarkets are now prohibited by law from purposely spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten.

The situation in France was so atrocious that supermarkets used to poor bleach into their dustbins along with edible foods. Worse still, poor families, the unemployed and homeless people faced the possibility of prosecution for theft if they were caught taking food from the rubbish bins of supermarkets.  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.

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.

Pope Francis has taken a very strong stand against food wastage. In an address commemorating the United Nations World Environment Day (2013) he said:

“This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.”

“Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value.

“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.”

While addressing Italian Christian Workers Associations earlier this May he condemned other aspects of the culture of waste.

“And this god of money destroys and causes the culture of waste: one discards babies because they are not conceived, or they are exploited or killed before birth. The elderly are discarded, because they do not have decent care, do not have medicine, or receive miserable pensions. And now, we even discard young people. Think, in this land so generous, think about that 40% of young people aged 25 years and under who do not have work, are waste material, but are also the sacrifice which this society, worldly and selfish, is offering to the god of money, which is the centre of our world economic system.”

The legislative decision of the French government gives a very good example while the critical and prophetic voice of the Pope may challenge governments and individuals to fight more against the scandal of waste.


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