French MPs vote to force supermarkets to give away unsold food

Dec 11, 2015

French MPs have voted unanimously to force supermarkets to give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date. Shops will also be banned from destroying food products, as they have in the past – sometimes by soaking them in bleach – to prevent them being distributed.

The proposal was passed as part of another law in May but was subsequently annulled by France’s constitutional court because of procedural faults.

It was reintroduced on Wednesday and passed by members of the Assemblée Nationale with support from across the political spectrum. The legislation was described in the house as a “crucial measure for the planet”, at a time when world leaders are thrashing out an agreement at the COP21 climate change summit.

The law will come into effect after it has been rubber-stamped by the Sénat, the upper house of the French parliament, on 13 January.

Arash Derambarsh, a local councillor who has campaigned for the law, said it was “a historic victory”. “It’s extremely rare for a law to be passed so quickly and with unanimous support,” he told the Guardian.

The new legislation allows individuals to set up associations, with the approval of the agriculture ministry, to collect and distribute food. “It means that ordinary citizens can show their solidarity and help distribute this food to those who need it,” said Derambarsh.

Continue reading the entire article by clicking the name of the source below.

44 comments on “French MPs vote to force supermarkets to give away unsold food

  • Im confused by this. Doesn’t this make a mockery of the sell by dates? I can understand fresh foods that you can tell whether they have rotted or not but who is going to guarantee the other stuff? Things like bread that are not sold that day is fine too. Is the article wrong in mentioning sell by dates and showing fresh foods in the photo?



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  • Sell by dates and use by dates are quite different and neither have much scientific basis or evidence of the food being unfit for consumption at either time however any legislation must have to refer to one or other of them as there’s no other benchmark.



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  • Not only is spectacular food wastage…er…wasteful it effectively elevates our actual cost of food. Two for one deals and the like encourage us to buy more than we need, cause us to imagine we have saved money and then buy more stuff we weren’t intending to buy with the notional savings creating two lots of potential waste.

    The problem is much wider-

    Half of all food is wasted

    Having got involved in local food supply I discover that the major buyers (all 4!) prevent suppliers selling out of (size and shape) spec produce via other channels, or only at elevated prices. These kinds of restrictions should be made illegal. Free markets serve monopolies first. The power of such or near such need to be broken in particular ways far more.



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  • My wife, who actually likes shopping, the fool, started shopping at Aldi’s and we are saving a small fortune in doing so. You can’t be lazy though and must try things and decide whether you like the product or not. Not all products are as good or as much a saving as first they seem. The meat has been a great surprise both in savings and taste/quality. Fruit and veg are hit and miss with shelf life spoiling some. People don’t really understand what ripe means. I had a young man ask me how to select sugar melons at the Turkish/Kurdish supermarket TFC. I just told him to smell the end that was on the vine and if it smells sweet then it will be. A few of our friends just buy fruit for the fruit bowl and if it lasts two weeks or more then thats the criteria for buying it because they never eat it. The yogurts are to die for and people need to get off these fake Greek yogurts and try the real thing. Tastebuds need to change without someone having telling them it is the new trend. Learning how to shop can’t be blamed on the supermarkets.



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  • Assuming this food is still fit for consumption, I wonder what mechanisms are in place to prevent “cheaters” – people of means – from taking advantage of its availability, presumably at low or no cost.



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  • Do you mean “do people really cheat?”? Seriously?
    Yes, I honestly think it is likely, particularly if there are no controls. (Integrity is not the default setting. Refer to comments elsewhere regarding failures in education.)
    I’m not saying it’s a reason not to do this, and perhaps the incidence would be relatively low, but I think if this program is intended to benefit the disadvantaged, then there ought to be some way of preventing cheating.
    Do you see it differently?



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  • No, I wouldn’t see ANYBODY (with means or otherwise) as cheating were they to take advantage of this law. I could almost see it as a lifestyle choice for some…the choice to take less fresh food. For fresh food one still pays. That’s up to those who will accept such a deal. Perhaps many disadvantaged would still rather buy fresher food than chancing it with the out of date stuff. Personally, I seek out the out of date french cheeses…better flavours.



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  • Doug
    Dec 11, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Assuming this food is still fit for consumption, I wonder what mechanisms are in place to prevent “cheaters” – people of means – from taking advantage of its availability, presumably at low or no cost.

    The purpose of this type of legislation is to encourage retailers to manage their perishable stock so as to avoid waste or food-poisoning.

    I often benefit from clearance items, which are sold at reduced prices on their last in-date day of sale. Many can then be frozen and safely be cooked later. There is nothing unusual about retailers having clearance sales.

    As Louis Minson mentions, some soft cheeses and fruits are nicer if the ripening is carefully managed by people who evaluate the individual items rather than a whole batch.
    Many people today have no such skills and simply pay for the shops to (often crudely) do it for them.

    It makes sense for stuff going out-of-date to be given to the needy at food-banks while it is still immediately edible, rather than being dumped in land-fill or feeding rats, feral cats, foxes, etc. raiding bins.



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  • Doug
    Dec 11, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    More importantly, who is held liable when some of this food causes illness or death?

    It is for this reason that producers leave a margin for error when setting dates.
    It is also a reason to take extra care checking dates in hot weather, and why retailers should take extra care when chillers or freezers break down.
    In most countries it is illegal to sell rotten food, regardless of dates on packets or labels.



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  • Understood.
    In the context here, however, it doesn’t answer the question. I wonder if or how the new law addresses this issue. Surely it cannot have been neglected, but the article doesn’t mention it. I suppose I’ll have to look elsewhere for the answer.



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  • @article – The new legislation allows individuals to set up associations, with the approval of the agriculture ministry, to collect and distribute food.

    Retailers already have an incentive to avoid waste – it’s known as “loss aversion” (AKA the profit motive). Obviously, clearance sales are an attempt to reduce business losses. This legislation allows “associations” to take (“force[s] supermarkets to give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date”) what is left after the clearance sales, when the retailers are no longer allowed or cannot afford to leave this stuff on the shelves, and distribute it. Presumably it will then be made available via certain outlets intended to serve the disadvantaged, but this is not made clear in the article. I wonder what prevents someone like you or me from going to those outlets and receiving the distribution, presumably at much lower cost (if any) than a clearance sale. Is there anything in the legislation to discourage this?



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  • When people with the means to participate in the free market choose instead to take from an artificial market intended to help disadvantaged people, how can that be seen as anything other than cheating?
    Lifestyle choice?! Yes, the choice to be a cheater.

    Perhaps many disadvantaged would still rather buy fresher food than chancing it with the out of date stuff.

    If they do, apparently they have the means. No cheating there.



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  • Thank you, but I wasn’t looking for the guidelines for food labeling.

    I am interested to know who is liable, under this new French legislation (“French MPs have voted unanimously to force supermarkets to give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date”), if the food distributed this way causes harm to consumers.

    Perhaps the disadvantaged (or otherwise) recipients are “forced” to sign waivers.



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  • That is the same question I asked at the beginning Doug but the lines are clear here and they should be in France too. The link I gave below shows what can be done legally with retailers of this food not selling chilled or frozen stuff because they also rely on how they are stored before use by dates. Fresh foods are easy to spot and tinned will have clear dates on them. There is a risk if the tins are damaged but that should be clear as well and a warning not to buy. Anything else seems fair game and if these large stores are actually covering these foods in bleach to stop them being eaten then they SHOULD be stopped from wasting perfectly good food.



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  • Doug
    Dec 12, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Thank you, but I wasn’t looking for the guidelines for food labeling.

    I am interested to know who is liable, under this new French legislation (“French MPs have voted unanimously to force supermarkets to give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date”), if the food distributed this way causes harm to consumers.

    The link Olgun gave explained the difference between “use-by” dates, “sell-by” dates, and “best-before” dates.

    As far as I can see it is food which has reached its “sell-by” date (but not necessarily its “use-by” date), which is to be given away. – as an alternative to putting it in a skip to go to land-fill!

    if the food distributed this way causes harm to consumers.

    It would need to be checked by those doing the distribution from food-banks. Grocery shops in any case, discard any food which is showing signs of going “off” regardless of dates.

    There are often packages which are sub-standard for marketing, but which have usable parts. (eg. a 6 pack with one mouldy orange in it)

    For someone like me who is familiar with harvesting home grown produce from the garden, understanding the sorting out of usable fruit and veg. from substandard rejects is routine. It is not rocket science.

    Customers paying full price, – especially at a weekly shopping visit, usually want a product which has some remaining shelf-life AFTER they have bought it.

    The impoverished hungry, want something to eat right now!



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  • You can only come to that conclusion Doug if you start with the assumption that the free market is a perfect place!!

    If we go back to the free markets ways to make their shopping expierience a better option for our lazy consumers then nothing should change. We can order on line and get our food delivered and get a longer shelf life if that is what we want. Short shelf lives of the cheaper products means more shopping that we are always told we have no time for.



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  • Okay, I’ll try one more (last) time.
    Once the food is “forced” out of the hands of the retailers and into the hands of those who would distribute it to the needy (or otherwise), after the legally permissible sale date (for retailers) passes, who then is responsible? If the retailer is forced to give away the food that they are not allowed to or cannot sell, is it possible that they are still liable? How about any other entities involved in the production or distribution of that food up to that point? If so, that seems hardly fair, and I would think that would increase the incentive then to destroy the food clandestinely so as to avoid the risk, which would seem to be significantly higher than normal if the expiration dates have any meaning (are not “a mockery”, as you suggested).

    So, then, does this law put the charitable “associations” in the position of potentially high risk responsibility, or does it land in the laps of the (primarily, perhaps) disadvantaged recipients, many of whom may not even realize that they are taking a risk?



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  • The link in above post would tell me that once they have taken or been sold the food, it is up to them to foot the responsibility Doug. When a wholesaler sells to a shop then it can no longer regulate sell by, use by or best before dates. The same should apply down the line. The only reason main retailers do not have these cheaper products on their shelves because it competes directly in the same store with more expensive ones. If the charities give away poisoned food then they are liable. Soup kitchens killing off the homeless would be prosecuted and would have to observe hygiene laws as well as anyone.



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  • Doug @ 11:51 a.m.

    A quick peruse of the (first draft) bill, does not reveal to me the answer to your “liability” question. Maybe there’s just no way to legislate to infinity and beyond – rather, a “handshake” agreement, sans lawsuit worry?

    destroy the food clandestine

    Yep. Above mentioned PDF had a long list of do’s and dont’s. Open to f*uck this! Ironically, a big don’t is pouring bleach on the food to be rid of it.



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  • As far as I can see it is food which has reached its “sell-by” date (but not necessarily its “use-by” date), which is to be given away.

    The article only indicates “sell-by”. And in my experience in the US, there is usually only a “sell-by” or a “use-by”, not both.

    It would need to be checked by those doing the distribution from food-banks.

    Yes, I would think so, too, but what is your source for this statement?

    And, think about the logic of this arrangement. Are the food banks inspected and regulated? If so, they must be held to lower standards than retailers if they are allowed to distribute food that retailers are not allowed to distribute. If not, then there’s no accountability. Either way, the consumers are not protected.

    Also, if these “associations” who endeavor to distribute this food are liable, then it seems to me that they would be taking on a very high risk that may be prohibitive.

    I understand (at least some) of the beneficial intentions of this law. I’m concerned that it may backfire or be essentially ineffective if the questions I have asked here were not asked by the lawmakers and are not addressed in the law.



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  • Don’t you love the concept of “cheating”, in a dog-eat-dog, “free market???

    The cheating I have referred to would be occurring in the “non-free”, artificial market of the expired food distribution system created (or augmented) by the legislation discussed in the article, if the legislation doesn’t account for its possibility.



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  • Doug
    Dec 12, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Okay, I’ll try one more (last) time.
    Once the food is “forced” out of the hands of the retailers and into the hands of those who would distribute it to the needy (or otherwise), after the legally permissible sale date (for retailers) passes, who then is responsible?

    “Forced” has nothing to do with it!

    The law in most places holds the final retailer/distributor responsible to THEIR customers.
    If I put stuff in a charity bag, or donate it to a charity shop, or hospice , it is their responsibility to see it is fit for purpose, before they pass it on to their customers.

    What has been disgracefully happening in some places, is that starving the homeless, have actually been prosecuted for “stealing” waste food from skips!



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  • …if you start with the assumption that the free market is a perfect place!!

    I should have placed the term in quotes: “free market”, or perhaps referred to it as the “natural” market. My intention was to distinguish it from the “food bank” market, which is not really a market, unless we allow cheaters, in which case it could then be a considered a “free ride market”.



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  • addendum

    (correct me if I’m wrong) – the food waste can be donated to other animals as well. If they get sick or die, seems it would be difficult to prove in a court of law, the connection. The evidence was eaten.



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  • Doug
    Dec 12, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Don’t you love the concept of “cheating”, in a dog-eat-dog, “free market???

    The cheating I have referred to would be occurring in the “non-free”, artificial market of the expired food distribution system created (or augmented) by the legislation discussed in the article,

    Would that be a “non-free”, artificial market”, in the sense of “regulated by government”, rather than a “non-free, artificial market, dominated and dictated” by multinational corporations exercising the power of monopolies or corporate muscle?



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  • I do see it differently.

    Folk accessing out of date food will have an element of pity directed at them. Cheats will be hugely scorned.

    I think the problem will be minor, mostly fixed by shaming by stand up comics. If it isn’t self correcting then choose to police it, but extra administration costs will degrade the value it gives and means testing has always been despised in this country (UK) by the proud poor for its added ignominy.

    Concern for cheating seems more the concern of the uber punitive US, than the socially engaged mutuality of Europe. (The UK are rather mid Atlantic in this regard.)



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  • Doug
    Dec 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I should have placed the term in quotes: “free market”, or perhaps referred to it as the “natural” market.

    There is no such thing as a “natural market”.
    Trades and bargains are made between people on the basis of bargaining power with communities.

    My intention was to distinguish it from the “food bank” market, which is not really a market, unless we allow cheaters, in which case it could then be a considered a “free ride market”.

    I really don’t see how the concept of “cheaters”, comes into giving materials (which would otherwise go to waste and cause pollution), to charity!



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  • https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/12/french-mps-vote-to-force-supermarkets-to-give-away-unsold-food/#li-comment-192647

    Forced” has nothing to do with it!

    The word was taken directly from the first sentence of the article we are discussing.

    The retailers are forced by the law to do something they are otherwise not obligated to do, and might choose not to do for various reasons, legitimate or otherwise. One legitimate reason may be that they believe the food is not fit for consumption, based on their understanding of what is “fit”. It would seem unfair to me to be forced to do something I wouldn’t choose to do, for legitimate reasons, and then be held responsible for the consequences.

    I guess that’s what lawyers are for, but it would be nice to think that the “lawyers” who conceived the law might’ve thought about this during conception.

    There’s no need to comment further. The question has been answered by others and elsewhere.



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  • Perhaps it’s different for you, but when I give “materials” to charity, I expect they are going to be distributed to the needy, in other words, those who lack the means to purchase or otherwise compensate the provider for these materials themselves. The cheating occurs if and when those who have the means take advantage of charity, perhaps by lying about their means. My sense, based on my understanding of human nature, is that if cheating (and lying) can occur, it (they) will occur. The question is whether or not there are mechanisms in place to minimize it.



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  • The impoverished hungry, want something to eat right now!

    And if they are provided food by a food bank that came from a grocery store that was forced to give it away rather than discard it and it makes them ill or kills them, who’s liable? Does this new law address this, or is it already covered somewhere else in the law? This seems like a fair question to me.



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  • https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/12/french-mps-vote-to-force-supermarkets-to-give-away-unsold-food/#li-comment-192651

    I do see it differently.

    Thank you for your wise words, Phil. I agree that the problem “should be” minor, and the mechanisms you cite for keeping it that way “should” suffice.

    Folk accessing out of date food will have an element of pity directed at them. Cheats will be hugely scorned.

    Only if the “cheats” are seen and recognized by those who would scorn. But I get your point.

    Regarding your comments on “means testing”, I guess I’m just too logical, not attuned to the emotional drivers of human behavior – I just don’t know people very well.

    cheating seems more the concern of the uber punitive US

    It’s possible that it’s just me – or maybe I’ve been infected by my US cultural environment, which does promote certain selfish behaviors, perhaps due to a relatively short history of previously-overwhelming-but-still-plentiful resources ripe for exploitation – but I think in general if people sense that they can get away with it, most will take advantage of a “free lunch” (or cheat in other ways), and will (at least claim they) experience no shame for doing so.



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  • These days lunch is cheap. We spend little relatively on food compared with yesteryear. You have to be really, really poor to need food help. But there are some really desperately poor people. My parents generation would turn down offers of help for the signal it gave to others.

    The evidence for such poverty I take in part from the obscene upsurge in gambling advertising and payday loan advertising with small print APRs in the thousands of percent or your choice of kneecapping or the pound of flesh nearest to the heart. The market understands the need for choice.



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  • Olgun
    Dec 12, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Only becomes unfair when the little dog clamps on the nuts of the big dog ?

    It does seem to me;- that in a “free-market” which gave us sub-prime salesmen’s commissions, bankers’ bonuses for nearly bankrupting the world, corrupt 3rd world politicians pocketing millions of aid money, millions in oil executives’ bonuses for polluting the planet, scamsters phishing the internet to access peoples bank accounts, PR companies paid millions to lie about warnings from reputable scientists, car manufacturer’s faking emissions tests, and rogue traders selling dangerous fake-brand merchandise; – that for a preoccupation with some homeless Frenchman or some marginally poor French family “cheating” their way into acquiring a stale loaf of bread, a pot of yoghurt, a few slices of ham, a bag of salad or fruit, or a pork pie; – kind of misses the big picture!



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  • I started to write in the early ours of this morning and gave up because I was tired and could not be bothered to find the links to backup my words so I went to bed.

    Last nights words below:

    There is room for cheating in charity when items are given to be resold to make a profit. The law in the UK, as far as I know, is that as long as these charities give twelve and a half percent to charity they can keep the rest. In a cash business its up to you how much you declare. I knew someone who made a very good living out of it. A real crook. I never give to these types of shops any more. There is another charity that helps people swap items or pick stuff up directly from the person who is giving it away and no money changes hands.
    With the food though, I cannot think of a way someone could cheat. Those that set up retail shops will sell to whoever wants to shop there and that is fine. Those that will be given food to distribute for free can’t charge for the goods as they will be found out quite quickly. The only way I suppose is if the food given for free ends up in the retail shops. The large super markets should keep a close eye on that and maybe mark foods for the free market somehow and police it because it would not be in their favour.

    The idea was to show the crooks who see a chance to make money and set up charities and are basically fly-by-nights who move on to the next scam. These are a bread of people who used to do the company stationary scams, boxing promotion (in which they dropped the boxer the minute they stopped earning, Pop band managers (my nephew was one of their victims) and any other business that makes them a buck.

    This morning I woke up to this which has saved me a lot of research. I stopped giving to charities a while back and only give to a small charity that I know in cyprus that looks after terminally ill cancer patients. I know the whole operation and am confident the lady in charge gives her life for the cause.

    I agree with Doug on human nature (of some) and I also agree with not allowing food to go to waste. Checks must be put into place to stop this culture of Delboys (Sorry American friends might not what I mean there) who I know for sure exist. The big charities cannot get away with it either because it is their shops that are on our high streets getting, sometimes, rent free or heavily subsidised shops which they fill with free goods and sell for too high prices using OAP volunteers to fill their pockets. Apart from making the government look bad by withdrawing charity, I don’t know what hold these charities have that allows them to behave this way.



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  • I stopped giving to charities a while back…

    @Olgun,
    This is what I use to evaluate charities:

    http://www.charitynavigator.org/

    It covers mainly larger, well known charities, but I think it provides a valuable service to me as well as to the recipients of charitable donations by revealing (and opening up to shame) those who appear to be abusing the money.



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  • …preoccupation with…

    You’ve misidentified what is my “preoccupation”. Please read more carefully.

    …kind of misses the big picture!

    Big pictures are made up of smaller pictures. The article being discussed here relates to a “small picture” topic that is a part of the big picture. Even this small picture consists of even smaller pictures, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect the bigger parts. If we don’t discuss and attempt to resolve the smaller parts, what hope do we have of solving the problems in the big picture?



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  • Alan4discussion
    Dec 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Don’t you love the concept of “cheating”, in a dog-eat-dog, “free market???

    Would that be a “non-free”, artificial market”, in the sense of “regulated by government”, rather than a “non-free, artificial market, dominated and dictated” by multinational corporations exercising the power of monopolies or corporate muscle?

    I see the Australian government has just decided to regulate and restrict the operation of a “free market” in the interests of consumers!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35090087

    ACCC research also found the products [with fancy labels and packaging as the only difference] were sold for almost double the price of Nurofen’s standard product



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