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France is making it illegal for supermarkets to throw away edible food

Just because it's ugly doesn't mean it isn't edible. (Mario Proenca/Bloomberg News)

Leave it to France to lead the way again in the food world.

In an effort to curb food waste, which accounts for roughly one-third of all food produced worldwide, France is making it illegal for supermarkets to throw away any food that is considered edible. The European country's parliament voted unanimously for the new law, which will force grocers to either donate the food to charity or make sure that it is used as animal feed.

"It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods," Guillaume Garot, a former food minister who introduced the bill, told the legislature Thursday evening.

[Americans throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal, and glass]

The law, as written, is one of the most stringent attempts to cut the amount of edible but unbecoming produce tossed out every day. As of July 2016, large supermarkets in France — those approximately 4,300 square feet and larger — will face fines of up to $82,000 for failing to comply.

France's pivot comes on the heels of a pledge by the European Union to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2025. But it also follows a number of other forward-thinking measures in France, aimed at halting the practice of tossing out food because of overly conservative expiration dates. In 2013, for instance, the country pushed forth legislation that forced food sellers to label foods in a way that more closely reflected their true shelf life.

Food waste is hardly specific to France, or Europe. Inefficiencies have led to a reality in which countries everywhere — especially developed ones — throw out more food each year than is needed to feed every hungry mouth around the world. In the United States, perhaps the most flagrant example, some $160 billion in food never gets eaten each year. America, as it happens, throws out more food than plastic, paper, metal and glass.

The problem, more often than not, is that we have set unreasonable standards for foods sold commercially. Countless studies have pointed to this very inefficiency, whereby consumers mistake cautionary labels for full-stop warnings about foods.

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