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New law could change France’s food system for the better

France's parliament has passed a law that would dramatically shift where food in France comes from. 

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    Revellers gathered near the Arc de Triomphe which was lit with the blue, white and red colours of the French flag on the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris, France, during New Year celebrations, late December 31, 2015.
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The upper chamber of France’s parliament has passed a law requiring all of the nation’s “collective restaurants” (school cafeterias, hospital cafeterias, senior living communities, prisons and other state institutions) to source at least 40 percent of their food locally. The proposal will need to be approved by the French Senate before it becomes law.

In addition to being locally sourced, the food served must be in season, organically grown and certified ecologically sustainable. While the law does not have a set definition of “local”, different recommendations will be given depending on the product and the geographical area. Currently, those recommendations are estimated to be about a 30-kilometer radius (around 19 miles) for fruit and vegetables and a 100-kilometer radius (about 63 miles) for foods that need processing before consumption (i.e. meat, grains). Some cities, such as St. Etienne in central eastern France, are already serving 100 percent organic food in their institutions.

The ultimate goal of the law, according to the text, is to restructure the food system in France, stimulate local economies, and shorten the food supply chain to a minimum (meaning either the produce goes directly to the consumer from the farm or there are minimal intermediary processing steps before consumption). The law, if passed, will be implemented by regional agricultural ministers, who will help administrative staff in affected establishments adjust to the sourcing changes. The government has already begun sensitization campaigns to help institutions re-organize administratively and connect with local farmers and producers.

Currently, about 25 percent of emissions in France are attributed to the agriculture sector, and the implementation of this law is estimated to reduce overall French emissions by about 12 percent. Successful implementation would also mean that French farmers are ensured a market for ecologically responsible and organic products and that state facilities can serve healthy, traditional, and local food to citizens. Additionally, corporations in France will be required to address these sourcing issues in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies. While these CSRs aren't legally binding, the revised policies will encourage a reduction in food miles, food waste, and product packaging.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), obesity rates in France have been increasing steadily over the past few years, with men in lower socio-economic around one and a half times more likely to be obese. Women with lower education levels are around three times more likely to be obese. This law not only has great potential to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of food systems but could also help revitalize depressed rural economies and make healthy food more accessible to all citizens.

This article first appeared at FoodTank.

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