FOOD

France Is Doing Something Amazing With Its Food

09/12/2016 9:04 AM AEDT | Updated 10/12/2016 3:40 AM AEDT
Jacky Naegelen / Reuters
The Eiffel tower.
Jacky Naegelen / Reuters
The Eiffel tower.

This article is part of HuffPost’s “Reclaim” campaign, an ongoing project spotlighting the world’s waste crisis and how we can begin to solve it.

France has little tolerance for trashing perfectly edible food, and its firm stance is paying off. 

The European country has become a world leader in minimizing food waste, according to a new report on global food sustainability.

Released Dec. 1, the Food Sustainability Index ranks how well countries are performing when it comes to food waste, agricultural sustainability and addressing nutrition challenges. The report analyzed all the countries in the Group of 20, which includes the largest global economies, and examined five nations from underrepresented regions, as well as 16 cities.

France scored highest on the index’s metric for efforts aimed at curbing food waste. The United States came in sixth in that category, and Saudi Arabia came in last place out of the 25 countries on the list. 

The first report of its kind, the Food Sustainability Index ― created by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research and analysis group, and think tank Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition ― aims to highlight the policies that are helping the world get closer to achieving the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a list of targets adopted last year which aim to end global injustices such as hunger and extreme poverty. 

Another aim of the Food Sustainability Index is to spread awareness about consumption habits and teach people how they can better protect the planet. 

The focus on food waste comes at a time when 800 million people are living with hunger, yet one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. 

France has succeeded in demonstrating that ending food waste, and addressing hunger, go hand in hand. It also showed that viable solutions for both issues are right in plain sight.

In February, for example, France declared it illegal for its supermarkets to throw out food that’s nearing its expiration date. The stores can either compost or donate it to charity. 

The country also banned putting expiration dates on certain categories of goods, such as wine and vinegar. Expiration dates are often random and don’t necessarily signify when a food may be close to spoiling.

Small-scale programs have also had a major effect. In 2014, Intermarche, Farce’s third largest supermarket, started selling “ugly” produce ― the fruits and vegetables that are fine to consume, but may be misshapen or bruised. The program reached 13 million people after one month. 

MIGUEL MEDINA via Getty Images
A woman holds a bag with fruits and vegetables judged ugly by mass market retailers, during 'Anti-gaspi, pour le climat aussi' (Fighting waste, also for climate change) an operation organized by the Paris City Hall in partnership with the French Agriculture ministry, as part of a national day of action to raise awareness against food wastage, on October 16, 2016 on the Place de l'Hotel de Ville in Paris.

Despite such isolated advances, the authors of the Food Sustainability Index report believe that much more needs to change before the world begins curbing its waste in more effective ways ― and they hope France can be a model.

“The food retail industry is rising to the challenge of food waste through several measures: clearer expiration dates on produce, partnerships with charities to donate excess foods, and use of food waste as fuel are among the measures used by the leading food system stakeholders,” the authors noted. “But legislation, following France’s lead, will help ensure these are not disparate and one-off initiatives but part of a comprehensive strategy to slash waste.”

Here are the 10 countries that scored highest in report’s anti-food waste category:

  • No. 10: Nigeria
    PIUS UTOMI EKPEI via Getty Images
    Nigeria wastes $750 billion in food a year, according to Agronigeria, an agricultural news source. Oftentimes, a lack of proper refrigeration during transport is to blame. A startup called ColdHubs aims to address that issue by providing solar-powered cold rooms for farms and outdoor markets.
  • No. 9: Italy
    Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
    In August, Italy passed a law that encourages supermarkets and farmers to donate unsold food to people in need. The country is also urging customers to take home leftovers from restaurants. 
  • No. 8: United Kingdom
    Luke MacGregor / Reuters
    After launching a "Love Food, Hate Waste" campaign, the U.K. succeeded in reducing consumer food waste by 21 percent in five years.
  • No. 7: Japan
    Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Japan is known for its impeccable food presentation, and also for the way it indiscriminately discards goods whose appearances aren't up to par. Japan wastes about 18 million tons of a food a year, but a new group called Mottainai Action is addressing this issue by rescuing perfectly edible, but "ugly" foods, and making meals out of them for four diners in Tokyo.
  • No. 6: United States
    Bloomberg via Getty Images
    As much as 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. A major culprit is the fact that the food labeling system isn't regulated, and the dates don't indicate when, in fact, a product isn't safe for consumption. Lawmakers met in June to discuss adopting a uniform labeling system, which could, in turn, help curb food waste. Some individual states have taken up the issue on their own. Vermont will soon allow zero food waste to end up in landfills. In Massachusetts, hospitals, businesses and colleges can't waste food. Farms in Ohio donate surplus crops to people in need. And in California, businesses are obligated to recycle their organic waste.
  • No. 5: Canada
    Ben Nelms / Reuters
    Canada wastes $31 billion in food a year. A number of groups are diverting edible food from landfills and into the mouths of people who need it. Food Banks Canada, for example, partnered with retailers to rescue more than 14 million pounds of safe, quality food and donate it to food banks across the country.
  • No. 4: Ethiopia
    Barry Malone / Reuters
    In Ethiopia, like many other developing countries, food waste occurs because of a lack of efficient methods to transport and store food. Ethiopia has been recognized for its targeted efforts to improve its infrastructure, agricultural development and support for small farmers.
  • No. 3: South Africa
    Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
    The average person in South Africa wastes about 400 pounds of food per year. To cut down on that figure, retailers in South Africa have banded together to rescue edible food and donate it to people in need. Last year, FoodForward SA (formerly known as FoodBank SA) was able to feed 3,350 tons of rescued food to 170,000 people in need, according to Independent Online. 
  • No. 2: Australia
    Tim Wimborne / Reuters
    Australians throw out $8 billion in edible food a year. Two major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, are working to bring that figure down by donating surplus goods to food rescue organizations. 
  • No. 1: France
    MIGUEL MEDINA via Getty Images
    In France, supermarkets are now required by law to either donate or compost food that's nearing its expiration date. 

More On This Topic