Italy adopts new law to slash food waste

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Image caption,
Italians are known for their love of food - but like other Europeans, they waste an awful lot

Italy has passed into law a raft of new measures to try to reduce the mountain of food wasted in the country each year.

The bill - backed by 181 Senators, with two against and 16 abstaining - aims to cut waste one million tonnes from the estimated five million it wastes each year.

It has been heralded as "one of the most beautiful and practical legacies" of the Expo Milano 2015 international exhibition - which focused on tackling hunger and food waste worldwide - by Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina.

What's the problem?

According to ministers, food waste costs Italy's business and households more than €12bn (£10bn; $13.4bn) per year. Studies suggest it could amount to more than 1% of GDP.

The problem is by no means confined to Italy.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that some one third of food may be wasted worldwide - a figure which rises to some 40% in Europe. "The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people," the FAO says.

It's not the first time Italy has acted decisively over issues of hunger and food.

Three months ago, its highest court ruled that stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger was not a crime.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Millions of Italians live in poverty, but the country wastes some five million tonnes of food each year

What approach is being taken?

Until now, businesses have faced risks and significant hurdles in trying to reduce waste.

For instance, many were concerned about violating health and safety laws by donating food marginally past its sell-by date. Complex procedures surrounded donating food, around maintaining sanitation and traceability standards.

The new laws seek to make donating food easier by removing these hurdles.

So tell me more about the specific measures?

Now businesses will be able to record donations in one simple form every month.

They won't face sanctions for giving away food past its sell-by date, and will pay less waste tax the more they give away.

Farmers will be able to give away unsold produce to charities without incurring costs.

The agricultural ministry will spend €1m researching innovative ways to package foods in transit to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life, and a public information campaign aiming to reduce food wastage will be rolled out.

But it is perhaps the drive to promote "family bags" which has attracted most interest from ordinary diners, and which will require the biggest cultural shift.

What's a family bag?

It's what the world has until now known as the "doggy bag" - the term repackaged to remove the whiff of food not fit for human consumption.

Doggy bags are fairly common in other parts of the world and allow diners to take home food they haven't eaten from the restaurant.

But so far it has been rarely sighted in Italy's eateries.

Now, after a successful regional pilot, the scheme will be rolled out nationwide, backed by a €1m campaign.

How does Italy's scheme compare to schemes elsewhere?

Earlier this year, France passed a comparable range of measures trying to stop good-quality food being thrown away.

But there were differences. Supermarket owners faced fines if they failed to sign contracts with food donation charities.

Commentators point out that Italy's approach seeks to incentivise good behaviour rather than punish bad.

They will be watching with interest to see if this achieves results.