French stores will be forced to donate old food

French MPs voted unanimously on Wednesday to force grocery stores to give out-of-date food to those in need, rather than discarding or destroying it.

French stores will be forced to donate old food
People take food that has been collected the night before from waste containers of a supermarket in Lyon. Photo: AFP

France has taken another step forward in the crackdown on food wastage in supermarkets.

MPs agreed on Wednesday that large supermarkets will soon be required to partner up with local charities that can help distribute unsold and out-of-date food to consumers in need.

With the COP21 climate summit in Paris, French MPs were particularly motivated to tackle food waste, not least considering that food waste is a major contributor to climate change and drought.

“Throwing out a loaf of bread is like throwing out a bathtub full of water,” said the Republican MP Jean-Pierre Decool according to AFP.

“Throwing out a kilogram of beef is equivalent to wasting 15,000 litres of water.”

The French parliament had passed a similar measure in May 2015, but it was rejected by the national constitutional court due to procedural errors. The new law will go into effect at the end of January.

French households throw out between 20 and 30 kilograms of food each year.  This figure jumps to 140 kilograms of wasted food per person when you look at the entire chain of food production, according to the French environmental statistics agency Adème.

In addition to limiting the food thrown away by supermarkets, the law targets the particularly controversial practice of destroying food by pouring bleach on it.

Some French supermarket chains had been adding bleach to garbage bins to prevent people from scavenging food waste. Stores claim the practice protected people from getting sick from eating old or contaminated food from bins.

French MPs from across the political spectrum worked together on the bill. MP Frédéric Lefebvre expressed his pride over the multi-partisan effort in a video interview with AFP after the vote.

“French people say they’re angry that we don’t do what we were elected to do, which is to work for the French,” he said. 

“What we did tonight shows that we’re capable of agreeing on subjects that are vital and in the public interest.”

French activists have worked to raise awareness of food waste in recent years. In 2014, Baptiste Dubanchet biked 3,000 kilometres across Europe eating only discarded food. 
“I really didn't think we were wasting as much as we are,” he told the The Local at the time
“Even when you know about it, it's still surprising to open a garbage can and find so many potatoes, so much fruit, yogurt, sometimes 500-litre or 1000-litre bins are filled with things that are still good enough to eat.”
With Wednesday's bill lawmakers hope all that wasted food will end up helping people who need it. 
Frenchman eats from Europe's bins in protest


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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!