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Over 700,000 signatures against food waste

This is the astonishing result of a petition in favour of a law to combat food waste by large stores. Inspired by the Milan Protocol on Food and Nutrition, the initiative is gaining ground all over Europe.

A petition which in just a few months has collected more than 750,000 signatures in favour of a law abolishing food waste in large stores: this is the outcome achieved by an initiative promoted by Daniele Messina, Project Officer at the Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena, and the origin of a bill which, at the time of writing, has been approved by the Chamber and is on its way to the Senate.

How did the idea for a petition on this issue come about?
It arose through my work at the Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS); I was involved in several Expo schemes and, in particular, in discussions surrounding the Milan Protocol on Food and Nutrition, promoted by the BCFN. During this I found out about the scope and the widespread nature of food waste. The idea of doing something to put an end to it, at least partially, was all mine. It happened after a visit to the Refettorio Ambrosiano, an organisation that distributes free meals to the poor.

France has also passed a law against food waste engendered by a public petition. What’s the link with your initiative?
Initially there wasn’t one. One night I was woken up by my daughter and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d seen in Milan and the FAO figures, which estimate that 1 billion, 300 million tonnes of food ends up in the rubbish bins every year. And that’s how I had the idea of a petition to demand a law which would help to reduce food waste. It was only after I’d launched the petition that the people at Change.org put me in touch with the promoters of the parallel petition in France. And so the idea became that the law should be enacted at European level. At the moment, eight countries have added their voices to the request.

What does an anti-waste law consist of?
Essentially, it facilitates - or sometimes obligates - the largest supermarkets and stores to refrain from throwing away excess food or items which have reached their sell-by date, asking instead that they donate them to organisations which distribute them to the most needy. This seems a banal issue, but it is far from banal. In order to meet their customers’ demands, supermarkets purchase far greater quantities of food than they can sell. The excess is thrown away, because for the supermarkets it doesn’t make sense to put large amounts of free food on the market. Besides, it costs money to store and redistribute the excess food, and as long as this cost is greater than the cost of disposing of it as waste, there is no advantage in donating.

How can virtuous practices be incentivised?
It’s a tricky task: the law being discussed in Italy, proposed by the MP Maria Chiara Gadda, is structured differently to the French version. In France they have chosen to make donation obligatory, and impose sanctions and fees on large supermarkets which deposit goods in landfill or incinerators. In Italy the plan is to make this decision voluntary, and the procedural rules have not yet been finalised. There are likely to be VAT allowances and subsidies for machinery needed for transporting and storing the food, but ultimately it will be down to the goodwill of individual operators. We hope this will be enough to change the situation. We would certainly have preferred more incisive action.

Do you think citizens have a role to play in pushing the anti-waste law?
Undoubtedly, partly because waste from large stores accounts for only 8% of the total, compared with 34% coming from individual consumers. So on the one hand we need to learn to be more intelligent consumers, buying only what we really need and consuming it in good time, on the other hand we have to support the more virtuous supermarket chains, letting them know that we value their decision to avoid waste. We can also choose to buy products that are not perfect but just as tasty and nutritious as those which look better, especially in terms of fruit and vegetables. There already schemes working in this field to change the bad habit of throwing away fruits and vegetables not considered sufficiently good-looking to be sold.

What is the role of foundations such as BFCN or Monte dei Paschi in this people’s battle?
BCFN and its activities was at the root of my involvement in this cause, and for me it’s important to remember that. But the Fondazione MPS has also enthusiastically taken up the cause and expanded its sphere of action. For instance, it has launched a project called sCOOL Food, whose purpose is to educate young children one hour a week in lessons about food, agriculture and sustainability. So far we have involved a total of 16 classes in primary, middle and high schools in Siena and Poggibonsi. This is a pilot scheme which aims to send a message to the Ministry of Education that it should consider including these subjects in the school curriculum.
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