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France cracks down on supermarket waste, new law mandates donation of unsold food

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The French government will ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food that has not yet passed expiration. (AP Photo)

France's parliament has voted to forbid big supermarkets from destroying unsold food, encouraging them to donate to charities or farms instead, as part of a national campaign against food waste.

The amendment approved by the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, late Thursday is part of a larger environmental bill. The overall bill will go to a vote Tuesday in the Assembly, then goes to the Senate, and is likely to pass in both houses.

The bill would require big supermarket chains to donate goods no longer fit for sale to charities or to farms for use as animal feed or compost. That includes goods that were packaged wrong or damaged, but remain edible, or that are past a recommended use-by date but are not dangerous to eat. Foods that are past a firm expiration date would go to farms.

Among other measures is one aimed at reducing waste in school cafeterias. Lawmakers also discussed teaching children in school ways to reduce waste in their own kitchens, and abolishing expiration dates on food that isn't necessarily perishable.

Environmental groups welcomed the vote, in a country where it is estimated that 20 to 30 kilograms (44 to 66 pounds) of food are wasted per person each year. The government announced in 2012 that it wants to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2025.

The Retail and Trade Federation says large supermarkets are being disproportionately targeted by the bill. It says the sector already donates thousands of tons to charity annually.

French supermarket chains have been publicizing their efforts to fight waste. Intermarche gained worldwide attention last year with an advertising campaign encouraging consumers to buy ugly fruit and vegetables, so that supermarkets wouldn't have to toss them in the garbage. Carrefour has a website dedicated to the issue.

Socialist lawmaker Guillaume Garon, who sponsored the bill, argued that limiting waste is not only good for the environment but also about social justice for those going hungry. "This concerns our compatriots who suffer daily, which is intolerable in the 21st century," he told the legislature.