Editor’s Note: Food waste isn’t just a Canadian problem – it’s a global issue with devastating impacts on climate change and hunger. All over the world, countries struggle to ensure good food ends up on plates instead of landfills, and many have developed unique strategies to face this crisis head-on.
In this series of articles, The Harvest Journal will explore food waste policies around the world and highlight what different countries are doing to prevent and reduce waste, build more sustainable and resilient food systems, protect our planet and finally put an end to food waste. We previously covered Japan, Finland and Korea.
France is a leader of change in Europe’s combative charge against food waste.
In 2016, the country passed Loi Garot (Garot Law), named after former Member of Parliament Guillaume Garot, who championed the cause. This is a milestone in food waste regulation, which established an anti-waste hierarchy with prevention as the top priority and held businesses accountable for reducing food waste.
Food waste policy highlights
The main measure of this legislation is an obligation for supermarkets or grocery retailers with a surface area of more than 400m2 to donate their surplus food to charity organizations instead of destroying it. (Previously, grocers would bleach any expired or surplus food to prevent people from dumpster diving in their bins at the end of the day.) This marked a significant shift toward a more systematic approach to food waste reduction.
Over the following years, the French government extended its focus to the hospitality sector, including restaurants, hotels and catering service operators. Restaurants, for instance, are encouraged to offer bags for patrons to take home uneaten portions. As of January 1, 2020, supermarkets are required to implement a donation quality management plan to ensure food quality, involving staff training and awareness. Non-compliance may result in fines of up to €75,000.
Also in 2020, a comprehensive Anti-Waste Law took effect, aiming to transform the entire production, distribution, and consumption system from a linear to a circular economic model. Ambitious targets include a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030 compared to 2015.
Results and challenges
Since the implementation of these policies, France has made significant strides, reducing food waste by 10% between 2016 and 2020, according to Eurostat data.
Nevertheless, they are not without their critiques. The scope of the law does not fully address the root causes of this issue in France – retailers and restaurants are responsible for about 20% of food waste, while households are the first contributor at 46%. Challenges such as coordinating partnerships between retailers and charities, transportation issues, and the need for proper storage have led to inefficiencies in execution.
Guiding consumer choices
Changing consumer behaviour is particularly challenging. To make an impact at a household level, awareness and education campaigns are run nationally. France is also enhancing expiration date labels to better guide consumers. The country employs two food labels: DLC (Date Limite de Consommation) for a majority of perishable products and DDM (Date de Durabilité Minimale) for dry, sterilized, and dehydrated products. To convey that these products remain safe beyond the DDM, producers can include wording like “For optimal tasting” or “This product can be consumed after this date” for precision.