Fighting the waste: regulations, petitions, and self-initiatives

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ASDA’s anti-food waste stall, Yorkshire Post Food and Drink Show 2015

The issue of food waste have been a recurrent topic on my blog. This is not surprising given the urgency of the problem, its global scale and far-reaching implications. There is not much to add, really – the wastage of food is an obvious fault in the modern food system, a major cause of environmental degradation, and probably one of the most morally disturbing societal issues faced by the world population. Moreover, this is the problem we are all implicated in – as everyday meal planners and cooks, as diners in restaurants, as shoppers in grocery stores. However, the really big battles against an epidemic of wasted food are being led on other fronts, where some very important victories have been recently won.

In May, the French parliament passed a bill to prohibit supermarkets to throw away unwanted food or poison produce with bleach to prevent food skipping. Every grocery store bigger than 400 sqm is now legally obliged to cooperate with charities to have leftover food donated to the hungry, while goods unfit for human consumption will have to be used for animal feed or compost. France thereby became one of the pioneers in tackling food waste on a governmental level – the only other part in the world to have enforced anti-food waste regulation is Belgian province of Flanders. The story behind France’s big step is a testament to our capacity to induce social change through collective power. The law grew out of a petition launched by a municipal councillor on the website http://www.change.org – it took just over 200.000 signatures to persuade the French government to adopt the proposed law. Prompted by France, a campaign for the introduction of a similar food waste prevention program has been started in the UK – an online petition has been launched to call on the government to ban supermarkets from discarding or destroying unwanted food and oblige them to donate surpluses to food distribution charities. In addition, a scheme is being proposed to give people placing grocery orders online an opportunity to donate money to sponsor a delivery of fresh produce to those in need.

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ASDA’s leftover tips, Yorkshire Post Food and Drink Show 2015

Following the heightened public and media focus on retailers’ role in tackling food waste and probably sensing the change in governments’ stance on the issue, Tesco has just announced plans to expand its food donation scheme which it has been running in partnership with Fare Share – a UK food redistribution charity – since 2012. The store managers will now be using a special app to alert local charity partners to the goods available for collection. The scheme will be trialled in ten UK stores and is meant to make more of unsold food available for donation to homeless hostels, women’s refuges and children’s breakfast clubs.

Tackling food waste seems a new industry trend. During the two-day celebration of eating and drinking at the Yorkshire Post Food and Drink show that is running in Leeds this very weekend, ASDA is demonstrating its respect for food with  a “Love Food Hate Waste” themed stall (see pictures above) and a program of activities, talks and demonstrations intended to educate the public about ways to prevent and manage food waste. Despite such positive changes, sceptics fear that supermarkets’ measures will merely patch up a problem that calls for a much more comprehensive solution . Fighting food waste requires addressing the wider issue of continuous overproduction in the food industry and preventing wastage all along the food distribution chains. It also requires educating the public about waste prevention and management (the new French legislation, by the way, stipulates a delivery of education programs on food waste in schools and workplaces). Whether our society is indeed heading for victory in the battle against food waste remains to be seen, but with the governments finally realising the need for swift and decisive measures, the moment may be just right to raise our voices and push for important changes.

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