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Should supermarkets donate unsold food?

Should Bermudian supermarkets be legally obliged to donate their unsold food to charity? ADAM ZACHARIAS looks into the issue.

Eighty-nine million tonnes of food are wasted every year in the European Union, according to a 2014 study.

In February, to help combat the problem, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away their unsold food.

Instead, the nation's shops must donate their goods to charity — thereby feeding huge numbers of people in need as well as reducing wastage.

Italy followed suit a month later, while two online petitions at Change.org calling for Britain to adopt the law have amassed a combined one million supporters.

But would the move be feasible for Bermuda's supermarkets?

In May last year, the Good Samaritan (Food Donation) Act passed unanimously in the House of Assembly — easing liability for organisations that donate food to the needy. The Act, proposed by Shadow Minister for Health Kim Wilson, simplified how restaurants, hotels and supermarkets can give their leftovers to charity.

Yesterday, Ms Wilson said that a law requiring the island's food service providers to donate surplus items would be “the natural next step” in cutting waste.

Carole Paynter, executive director of the Eliza DoLittle Society charity, said there was a “definite need” for the law in Bermuda.

“Unfortunately, even with the introduction of the Good Samaritan Act, there is still a lot of food wastage occurring — and the number of struggling people is rising every day,” she added.

Martha Dismont, executive director of community charity Family Centre, cautiously welcomed the possibility of a new law.

“I believe that this society should do everything within its power to ensure that no one goes hungry,” she said.

“However, I also believe there are many questions to answer before advocating for legislation on private entities such as supermarkets.”

Ms Dismont added that the amount of waste produced by supermarkets would need to be researched, as would the capability of food banks to process the extra donations and the required additional infrastructure.

“If such a law could work here, it would be a welcome addition to support the needs of families. But those needs should be assessed to get it right,” she said.

Sandy Butterfield, co-founder of addiction charity Focus, said that the introduction of the legislation would be “wonderful”.

“I would definitely support it,” she added.

“We feed around 20 people a day, breakfast and lunch, so we're ever grateful for food donations.

“Receiving unsold food from supermarkets would be of real benefit to Focus.

“We'd be able to give people a little more variety in what they eat.”

Sheelagh Cooper from the Coalition for the Protection of Children foresaw potential logistical problems in the initiative.

“I'm not crazy about trying to legislate these sorts of things,” she said, “but it would increase enormously the availability of perfectly good food which is slightly damaged or slightly old.”

Fern Wade from Southampton-based charity Hands of Love Ministry, which has been helping Bermuda's families in need since 1979, voiced her support for the law.

“That's as long as the leftover food was given to as many charities as possible,” she said.

“The only roadblock is to ensure that the food and the process get tested, so people don't get sick. The Government should look into it.”

Food for thought: trash container outside Modern Mart, South Road, Paget

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Published June 09, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 09, 2016 at 9:21 am)

Should supermarkets donate unsold food?

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