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Why France's Food Waste Solutions Won't Work Here--And What Might

A year ago, France enacted food waste regulations to aggressively tackle a growing problem for the country. Activists around the world soon began pushing to enact similar measures in their own countries. 

There’s no doubt that the U.S. needs better and more comprehensive solutions to reduce food waste. But there’s also no doubt that France’s solution isn’t the one we need. Instead, we’ll have to find answers suited to our own unique circumstances.  

Why French Food Waste Regulations Won’t Work in the U.S.

France’s Food Waste Solution

The French food waste ban makes it illegal for grocery stores larger than 4,305 square feet to throw away or destroy unsold edible food. Instead, stores must sign donation contracts with charities or face a €3,750 ($3,994) fine.

The context for these regulations? Grocery stores accounted for about 11 percent of French food waste. Instead of donating their excess, many stores would destroy unsold food, fearing lawsuits if charity recipients or dumpster divers became sick from eating it. 

What’s Different About U.S. Food Waste?

Unlike in France, grocery stores account for a smaller percentage of U.S. food waste. Our stores also receive tax deductions for donating unsold food, and are protected from potential liability by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.

While the U.S. already has a fairly robust donation infrastructure, our country’s size would likely make the kind of mandatory donation outlined in the French model unfeasible. Not to mention that differing sensibilities would likely make such a law wildly unpopular among the American public.

We’ll have to tackle the problem of food waste in other ways.

Food Waste Solutions for the U.S.

1. Provide Incentives for Food Recovery

In 2015, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine proposed the Food Recovery Act, which would give farmers tax credits for harvesting “ugly” produce. The act would also expand tax deductions for farmers, restaurants and grocery stores that donate unsold food. 

This kind of food waste solution could tackle the problem by aligning environmental interests with those of farmers and retailers. 

2. Revisit Regulations That Lead to Waste

A notable percentage of U.S. food waste is due to agricultural marketing orders. These orders are used within various commodity sectors (from dairy to raisins) to limit the amount or type of a commodity that can be taken to market.

While they’re intended to stabilize the market, such orders can force farmers to let portions of their crop go to waste instead of being sold or donated. Opponents also argue that artificially limiting a commodity’s availability only leads to importing larger quantities from overseas—a situation that’s both environmentally and economically damaging.

Amending the Agriculture Marketing Agreement Act could eliminate one major source of waste at the supply level.

3. Standardize Labeling and Empower Consumers

Congresswoman Pingree, along with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, recently proposed the Food Date Labeling Act to address the problem of food waste at the consumer level. This act would require food packaging to use a standardized labeling system that clearly differentiates between dates that indicate peak quality and dates that indicate the food may be unsafe.

In the U.S., a large percentage of food waste happens at home. Confusing sell-by dates are a major contributing factor. Standardized labeling could empower consumers to make smarter choices about what they throw out.  

Just as France’s law addressed the causes of food waste specific to France, these approaches provide food waste solutions that address the differing causes at play in the U.S.