France has taken dramatic action to cut food waste by requiring that all large supermarkets donate their unsold food to charities or else be used in animal feed.
The Guardian reports that the measure passed the French national assembly in a unanimous vote, with center-right deputy Yves Jégo telling parliament that "There's an absolute urgency – charities are desperate for food. The most moving part of this law is that it opens us up to others who are suffering."
Legislators found rare common ground on the issue of wasted food, which is exacerbated by deliberate efforts on the part of some markets to chemically destroy unsold products so that they cannot be redistributed. According to the Guardian, stores that take up "4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 ($83,500) or two years in jail." Food that is past the best-by date but has not yet spoiled and damaged or improperly packaged products that remain safe to eat are covered by the legislation, per CBC reporting.
The French environmental agency told Reuters that the French discard about 20 kilos (approximately 44 pounds) of food each year per person. According to the Guardian, this makes the country the fourth most wasteful in all the European Union, following the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands.
The extra food is sorely needed. In January, Al Jazeera America reported that Paris' homeless population had risen by 84% in the past decade, far outstripping the ability of charities to handle the increase in those without access to basic goods and services.
Such a measure is badly needed but probably unthinkable in the U.S., where dozens of cities have banned public feeding of the homeless and tighter state requirements on eligibility could kick a million unemployed adults off of government-funded food assistance in 2016. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that up to 40% of all food in the U.S. goes uneaten, despite the fact that approximately 49 million Americans suffer from food insecurity each year.