Is France Saving Food, or Harming People?

Fresh fruit display at a grocery store

France has voted to force supermarkets to donate food to charity or allow it to be turned into animal feed, compost or energy.

This begs the question: Why do we need a super-authority to FORCE stores to do something as basic, obvious, humane, logical and ecological as this?

Before I give you the answer, let’s go back in time, to when no one knew about seat belts, and when car makers did not put them in their cars. The government made it mandatory for the car makers to put seat belts in, and this is why we now have them in all cars. This begs another question: Are humans too stupid to ask for safety features without forcing them into the works through government?

It seems, in both of these cases, that the government did good for humanity. How can I possibly argue that adding a safety feature which saves lives by preventing people from being ejected from their vehicles at high speeds is a bad thing? It goes against my libertarian principles, but the ends justify the means, right?

Well what about the food? Why wasn’t this a thing before? I was unable to find a direct source for this, but many comments on reddit tell stories about places getting sued after people have allergic reactions or other problems from eating food donated rather than discarded. Other comments also say that many places in France already donate their excess food, and that these regulations only add huge potential fines for not doing so. It seems regular people in these stores do want to give this food away, but legal complications (which stem from the state) can prevent this from happening easily.

Another anecdote was how customers won’t buy fruit from an entire bin if one of the fruits has a nick on it. This seems to be a big problem with human nature that no amount of government force can change. Stores must do what they can to sell their products, which can lead to waste by not wanting to sell expired (but still edible) products, and ones with nicks and scratches on them.

After discussing this topic with my roommate, he brought up some interesting points.

Grocery stores here in Montreal (and presumably in many if not all other cities) have been caught repackaging meat and simply altering to date in order to sell off all their product, essentially meaning they sell expired meat under a false label. If we are adding hefty fines for throwing food out, won’t this inevitably lead to more products being sold to consumers that are not fit to eat?

Another possible problem could be the increased use of preservatives. Cheap, effective, and super unhealthy, companies could start upping their use of preservatives like nitrates to extend the life of their products to avoid these fines.

Had there been time for a line of cars with seat belts to emerge, I’m sure the information would have spread and people would have started only buying cars with seat belts. It happened to work out in humanity’s favor that the government stepped in before the choice was given to consumers.

In this recent case, it seems like the government is trying to collect brownie points. Not only does this make them look great, but they have the potential to gain more revenue from these fines. Again, on paper it seems great that there will be less waste in France, but the reality of it is that we’re now pointing guns (the state) at people (the supermarkets) and demanding they follow more rules or pay hefty fines.

The libertarian solution to this would be for a non-profit or (if it’s somehow profitable) for a company to help these stores collect their discarded items and sort them out, sending the edible stuff to people in need and the compostable/recyclable stuff where it can be best used. The government could even help set this up if they really want to collect brownie points! But adding more laws and regulations really never helps in the end, if our goal is to achieve freedom.

This whole story has been sold to us, the consumer, as a great initiative, as if grocery stores were throwing out food for fun and now the game is over. There are obviously going to be repercussions because of these new restrictions on freedom. It’s easy for us, the consumer, to feel good about the notion of stores not being allowed to waste as much food. But what if the laws extended to our homes? What if there were cameras in our kitchens and alarms that went off and tickets issued to us if WE don’t use all our food up?

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