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Sorry, Fido, Italy encourages 'family bags' to curb food waste in new law

The law, which aims to reduce food waste by at least 1 metric ton of the 5 million wasted each year received overwhelming support in a vote Tuesday.

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    A man shops for food in a Conad grocery shop in Rome, Italy in April. The Italian government approved a new law to curb food waste by making it easier for supermarkets to donate food to charity and encouraging diners to use 'family bags' to take food home after eating out on Tuesday.
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The Italian government is taking action to curb food waste, passing a law Tuesday that encourages diners to take home unfinished food from restaurants to feed their families, and makes it easier for supermarkets and farmers to donate food to charity.

The law received overwhelming support, with 181 Senators in Italy’s upper house voting for it on Tuesday, Britain’s The Independent reports.

With the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) saying 40 percent of all food is wasted across Europe, enough to feed 200 million people, efforts to reduce food waste and provide healthy options to families often unable to afford them, has been growing in Europe and around the world, including the United States. 

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“You've got an incredible population of young people now who either grew up on social services or with Social Security, and the only food that they've got available to them is canned, bagged, preservative-laden food," Ashley Stanley, who began a Boston-based food rescue called Lovin’ Spoonfuls, told The Christian Science Monitor in 2014.

With the US Department of Agriculture estimating that 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in the US each year is wasted, “This is the most preventable problem that we've got in this country,” Ms. Stanley said.

Perhaps no nation than Italy is better positioned to help focus the global efforts against food waste. Italy is the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement – promoted as an alternative to fast food that also aims to celebrate and preserve regional cuisine – that has spread worldwide since its inception in 1986.

Now the Italian government aims to cut 5 million metric tons of food wasted each year by at least 1 million metric tons. The new law, ministers say, could also help aid citizens at a time when unemployment has reached 20 percent and the country’s public debt has also soared. 

The new law aims to make it easier for supermarkets and farms to donate food by recording donations in an easy-to-use form each month, The Independent reports.

It also removes sanctions on giving away food by its sell-by date and businesses are given a larger break on their waste taxes if they donate more food.

Italy is also developing new ways to store food to prevent it from rotting as it is transported and creating a public campaign about food waste through a 1 million euros ($1.1 million) grant from the agricultural ministry. 

It will invest an additional 1 million euros to create a campaign to promote “family bags,” a rebranded version of a “doggy bag” that aims to encourage families to take food home when they eat out, the BBC reports.

Unlike in other parts of the world, the use of such bags is relatively rare at restaurants in Italy, though a regional pilot was successful.

In May, an Italian court also ruled that stealing a small amount of food shouldn't be considered a crime if it is really needed.

France has also approved measures to curb the waste of still-good food, but its measures were seen as punitive, rather than aiming to reward good behavior.

One provision calls for supermarket owners to face fines if they don’t sign contracts with food donation charities, according to the BBC.

A recent study from the United Nations’s FAO and the World Resources Institute found that in a survey of 44 countries, household food waste was reduced by 61 percent in countries that had legislation aimed at curbing waste compared to those that did not.

National-level food retribution programs and awareness campaigns could also have an impact on much food waste households produce each year, the study found, Food Tank reports.

The UN’s FAO also notes a key difference between developing countries and medium to high-income countries, where food instead tends to be wasted at later stages in the food supply chain. 

Efforts to target consumers, such as Italy’s “family bag” measure, could make a larger dent.

“Raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste,” the FAO says.

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