Italy adopts law that could help the poor in a big way

Posted August 20

Italy has adopted a new set of laws to encourage people and businesses to conserve and give food to the poor — a move that proponents say will help cut down on waste while simultaneously assisting those in need.

The provisions remove roadblocks when it comes to supermarkets and other businesses giving away food that is past the sell-by date and incentivizes businesses not to pay as much in waste taxes, the Independent reported.

The law seeks to cut waste and help the poor, allowing businesses to record donations on a simple form each month. The central goal is to cut Italy's overall food waste — 5.1 million tonnes annually — by more than 1 million tonnes, The Huffington Post reported.

Farmers will also be able to give away food that they haven't yet sold without facing more costs or barriers.

"Our farmers are already doing this at the markets with the leftover produce, but with this new law, instead of just doing it in a friendly, informal way, it can be donated directly to soup kitchens or other charities," Nicola De Ieso, a spokesperson for a farmer's association, told The Telegraph. "It simplifies things for us. We can be even more efficient."

But the new food law isn't just impacting and targeting businesses and farmers.

The legislation, through a government grant, will create a campaign encouraging people and families to take "doggy bags" home and to not waste uneaten food at restaurants; it is apparently "rare" for such requests to be made in Italian eateries.

The government will reportedly refer to these take-home packages as "family bags" to help create a more palatable name and to encourage the practice.

Additionally, research will go into the creation of recyclable packages that will help contain spoilage during food transit.

The move comes after the release of a government-commissioned study that found that around 360 million meals are wasted in the U.K. every year due to supermarkets throwing food away.

Wrap, the group that produced the study, called for communication between supermarkets and charities to help remedy the situation by ensuring that food ends up on peoples' plates and not in the trash.

"What we need to do is actually have a lot more infrastructure that means there is collaboration between industry, retailers and charities," Richard Swannell, director of Wrap, told the Independent. "It takes some organisation."

Other countries have also taken steps to combat food waste. Six months ago, France banned supermarkets from tossing edible food in the trash. The difference with the Italian law is that it offers incentives to encourage food donation and doesn't force businesses' hands as happens in the French legislation.

With Italy and France taking these steps, some believe that other nations — including the U.S. — could soon follow. According to The U.S. Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service, America wastes 20 percent of its food supply each year, which accounts for about 133 billion pounds each year.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has introduced two efforts of late: the Food Date Labeling Act and the Food Recovery Act — both bills seek to combat food waste. The bills would tackle confusing labeling on food to standardize it, and incentivize farmers and businesses to donate food, NBC News reported.

Not everyone, though, believes that additional government regulations are the answer, as food attorney Baylen J. Linnekin wrote in a recent op-ed for Reason that it is government rules and regulations that often force food waste.

"Hidden behind many of these government campaigns to reduce food waste is the frequent cause of that food waste: other government regulations," he wrote, later adding, "Italy didn't need more rules to reduce food waste. It needed fewer rules so that people could follow their natural inclinations both to reduce food waste and to share food with those in need."

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