Should US follow France’s lead on food donations?

Inside a Feeding America food warehouse. (March 15, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — France recently passed a law that will require supermarkets to donate unsold, unspoiled food to charities.

The new rules attempt to address two issues in France: food waste and hungry people. Both of those are also problems here in the United States.

According to Feeding America West Michigan, 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. goes to waste and 50 million Americans are struggling with hunger.

“So you look at those two issues and you say, ‘Well, there is an easy solution to people in need,’” said Andrew Steiner, spokesperson for Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank.

But is a law like the one passed in France — which makes failure to donate punishable by a fine or jail time — needed in America?

“We really respect the initiative and the zeal to reduce food waste. We would always prefer to see the carrot instead of the stick when encouraging food donations,” Steiner said.

Feeding America’s facility in Comstock Park is currently at capacity, and grocery stores are a big contributor.

“The majority of our food is donated, it’s donated by supermarkets and many of the largest supermarket chains in the county are participating. Walmart is our number one food donor. Meijer is close behind, they’re an excellent food donor. And almost any grocery store chain you can think of, they are already donating surplus food,” Steiner said.

Instead of a law like the one passed in France, Feeding America is encouraging U.S. senators to pass the U.S. Gives More Act.

“It extends those tax benefits of donating foods to small family-owned farms and grocery stores,” Steiner explained.

If the act is passed, it would generate 100 million more pounds of food for Feeding America per year, the organization estimates.

Another major group of donators: Local farmers.

“Our goal is to increase access to healthy food, mainly for people who live in the Heartside neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Lisa Sisson, the director of the Heartside Gleaning Initiative.

The Heartside Gleaning Initiative, which formed last year, collects unsold produce from farmers at the Fulton Street Market and Downtown Market. Last year alone, the nonprofit collected 17,000 pounds of produce. They’ll start pickup this year on June 6.

“We take it back down to the Heartside neighborhood and give it to agencies and individuals in the neighborhood to prepare and eat,” Sisson said.

Sisson said her organization has seen the need for fresh food

“In West Michigan, we have such good philanthropy that there is plenty of food, generally everybody has access to an adequate amount of food. It’s just the types of food they have access to,” Sisson said. “The agencies themselves tell us that they don’t have good access to a lot of produce. It’s expensive to purchase and highly perishable. So if you do a food drive, no one does a food drive for fresh produce.”

Both Feeding America West Michigan and the Heartside Gleaning Initiative are nonprofit organizations working to feed the hungry in West Michigan, and both agree food donations are always in need.

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