France has taken a very appreciable step by passing a law which will ban supermarkets from throwing away edible food if it has not been sold. In a rare show of unity, the bill was passed unanimously with the Opposition also supporting the initiative. This has been done in the light of an epidemic of food wastage, which clearly highlights the disparity between the large food powers and those who struggle to get a square meal a day.
Supermarkets which are 400 sq. ft. or larger will have to sign contracts with charities by next July, in order to avoid the € 75,000 fine or two years in jail. The supermarkets are banned from throwing away or destroying food, and must donate this to either charities or for animal feed. This law has set a standard, which the country intends to follow in the future, while aiming to cut down on wastage of food at cafes, restaurants and school canteens, among other eateries.
This law also makes it faster and easier by creating a direct supply chain between the two setups, but does come with certain challenges. Implementation of this law will be a hassle, as keeping tabs all around is a hard task. Charities must also be prepared to store and use an increased influx of food, and will need amenities like storage space, refrigerators, etc., which may not be readily accessible to them.
This law stems from the continuous demands of various activists, and due to the increased coverage by the French media about how the poor need to forage at night in the waste bins of such supermarkets in order to get edible food, which was thrown away right before their expiry date. Foraging is quite common in France, with several risks involved, such as going through rotten food to reach the packed items, which have also led to criminal charges for theft being pressed against many such people. In 2011, a supermarket- minimum wage worker was caught stealing a few fruits from the waste bins of same supermarket after hours, and almost lost his job in the process. With workers themselves not being able to afford meals, it comes as no surprise when so many more people have been in such a plight to resort to eat out of trash cans.
Some stores also douse their binned food with bleach, to prevent food poisoning which is highly possible when the food is eaten out of the bins, and others also deliberately lock binned food in warehouses to prevent scavengers from accessing the same. On an average, each person in France wastes 20-30 kg of food per year, with 7 kg of such food being unpacked.
Compare this with the situation in India, which suffers from widespread poverty, and the same problem of income disparity where some people are very well off and many of them cannot afford a single nutritious meal a day. According to a UNDP report, about 40% of the food produced in India is wasted, and ranks 63 out of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index. The waste of food in our country is indirectly a large waste or resources such as agriculture, manpower and electricity, which has quite an impact on the economy.
The Ministry of Food Processing has been working towards overcoming these obstacles, to prevent wastage of food and use resources efficiently. The government can take further initiatives to curb wastage, such as improving storage with facilities like cold storage, containing wastage in transport and faster food processing technology.
An important food welfare scheme run by the Ministry of Education is the Midday Meal Scheme, which supplies school-going children in government aided schools with nutritious meals, indirectly aiming at attendance retention. With a scheme this large, it is expected to be ridden with organizational problems. But those are not the only problems it is plagued with. More often than not, school children fall ill due to the food prepared, with cases of snakes and worms found in food being reported- a case of 50 students falling ill in Bihar was reported, the cause of which was a dead lizard, which resulted in 23 deaths. More children proceeded to fall ill in various districts of Bihar within the same month.
The avoidable deaths in Bihar were highlighted far and wide, which was followed by more than a hundred children falling ill after eating a meal in Tamil Nadu, a state which is known for its superior delivery of public services and which originated the idea of mid-day school meals in India. This clearly highlights the plight of rationing in India; if something on the lines of the food wastage prevention law were to be enacted in India, it will be crippled with several dysfunctions that the cost of undertaking such an exercise will be futile to most.
In India, organisational problems will be aplenty. The sheer number of supermarkets, as well as regions where food is scarce and NGOs and other bodies cater to, is overwhelming. Keeping a tab on them, and running the scheme without any corruption or red tape will be a challenge.
To conclude, although this law has been introduced in France, we will have to wait and see how far it goes as far as implementation is considered, and if such a law will actually help the poor get wholesome meals on time. Other factors to keep in mind would include if the supermarkets have a better alternative, such as throwing away the food, which will cut down on costs for them, and if they can evade the law at the same time. How charities and NGOs manage the produce they receive should also be noted, and even if things sail do smoothly for India, the plight in our country is very different given that our population is 20 times theirs.
However, it is important to note that without any law, there are charities in India distributing excess food to the needy, a list of which is available here (you can bookmark the link), something actually worth keeping in mind and implementing by all of us.
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)