EDITORIAL: Don’t bite off more than you can chew
France’s new law makes food donations mandatory
There’s a food crisis in the United States and it’s palpable in the state of New Jersey. Although the Garden State is the second-wealthiest state in the nation, it’s still home to 1.1 million people who are food insecure. And overall, there are 8.8 million Americans who live in households lacking enough money to obtain nutritious food on a regular basis.
Food security is an essential part of living a decent life, and those who are struggling to feed themselves are more likely to struggle finding and keeping a job, plus children suffering from hunger are more likely struggle in school. It’s a well-known fact that food is a natural source of energy for people to complete their day-to-day activities and maintain good health. It’s a problem that many are barely scraping by to feed themselves and their families in the U.S., because going hungry shouldn’t be this much of a problem in a nation that’s incredibly affluent.
Hunger is a pervasive issue, but it’s not because there isn't enough food being produced. There is, rather, an abundance of food lay to waste. Anyone can be in awe and wonder at the immense variety and wonderful quantity on the shelves of grocery stores, but not everything will be bought, and all of the food that’s unsold will be disposed. The standard practice in the U.S. and many other countries is to trash food that hasn’t been purchased, and some stores will pour bleach on perfectly decent food to prevent scavengers from scouring through bins of neglected food. This is the fate of food that remains on the shelf after the sell-by dates, although food is still to safe to eat. Sell-by dates are timestamped well before the food actually goes bad and are generous reminders of the item’s perishable state. Safe and edible food shouldn’t be thrown away when there are local families who don’t know when they’re eating next.
The U.S. and other nations can learn a little something from France, whose senate unanimously passed a law that would make it the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. As of earlier this month, large shops can’t throw away good-quality food that’s approaching its sell-by date, and are instead required to send them to charities or food banks. Supermarkets that exceed a certain square footage are required to sign contacts with charities by July 2016, and penalties for failing to establish relationships with charities would have fines up to $81,600 or two years in prison. These strict rules and heavy fines may seem extreme, but they serve as good measures for stores to abide by this reasonable law.
The U.S. needs to follow France’s suit. There are already strong incentives in the U.S. for people to donate food, such as the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act, various tax deductions and the U.S. Federal Food Donation Act in 2008. But despite these encouragements, so much food still failed to be donated. In 2010, U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores threw out 43 billion pounds, or $46.7 billion worth of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. None of these laws or tax incentives have the same effect that would compel people to donate as the newly enacted law in France did.
When billions of pounds of food are wasted annually, millions of people are going hungry when they don’t need to be. Redistribution of wasted food should be new the agenda policymakers that seek to address the problems of hunger. Making it mandatory to donate unsold, safe and edible food doesn’t harm anyone — it only helps.
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