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France strikes down 'best before' labels on non-perishable foods

The controversial 'best-before' label on non-perishable foods such as dried pastas, rice, and sugar has long been criticized for confusing consumers and eventually leading to food waste. The decision is part of a larger movement toward cleaner energy use and waste reduction in France. 

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    A plate of pasta with vegetables. France has voted down the controversial 'best before' label on foods that don't go bad, like dried pasta,rice, and sugar.
    Nathan Bilow/Invision for Barilla/AP/File
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Following a recent vote by the French Senate, the controversial best-before label on non-perishable foods such as dried pastas, rice, and sugar is abolished in France. Known in France as the DLUO, the label has been criticized for confusing consumers and eventually leading to food waste. The new amendment that eradicates the label is part of an"energetic transition" movement in France toward cleaner energy use and waste reduction in many sectors in addition to food production, such as transport, heating, and electricity.

Senator Eveline Didier, representing Lorraine, is Vice-President of the Commission on Sustainable Development and the law's main proponent. Didier calls the DLUO a "source of confusion for the consumer who perceives it as an expiration date. This leads to consumers throwing away products that are still usable, thereby promoting food waste." The DLUO was frequently used in conjuction with or interchangeably with the phrase meaning "to consume preferably before." This is not very different from the phrase "to consume until," which is used on expiration labels for perishable foods such as raw beef or chicken.

Segolene Royal, the Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Energy, as well as a former presidential candidate, has pointed out that even perishable products are often still usable after their best-before or DLUO date. "The laboratories have proved it. Yogurt can be consumed three weeks after its DLUO. This has been a source of waste and impinges on the purchasing power of households."

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However, Jean-Louis Masson, senator from Moselle, argues that the DLUO label should be modified and improved upon rather than eliminated. "Instead of a ban, make the label optional. Consumers need to know the quality of a product." This has been, until this point, the stance of the French Ministry of Agriculture, Foods, and Forests, as explained on their website. A food that has passed its DLUO "does not present a danger, but may have lost some or all of its taste or texture qualities."

The DLUO and other labels have been used as reference points for retailers and consumers. Businesses specify the age of products so they can be rotated and sold accordingly. However, consumers have become confused with several similarly phrased labels on food products that refer to quality and freshness. This has resulted in costly losses and massive amounts of food thrown away.

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