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Bizarre Food Laws Around the World

Bizarre Food Laws Around the World

From milk expiration day to supermarket food waste, a look at bizarre food and drink laws that create an abundance of food waste around the world.

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Ocheesee Creamery is a little creamery in Florida. It caters to people who want all-natural products without additives. So far so good, until a federal judge ruled this year that because Ocheesee doesn't add vitamin A to its milk, Florida may prohibit the creamery from labeling its skim milk as "skim milk”.

An inspector ordered to stop selling the milk before, in the words of Baylen J. Linnekin, because of what it didn't contain—mandatory additives. Ocheesee's skimmed milk was just too natural. Linnekin is an adjunct professor at George Mason University and describes this case in his book Biting the Hands that Feed Us, that came out last September.

This example is just one of many based on bizarre laws on food and drinking that don’t add anything to food safety, but do create an abundance of food waste. In the US, the patchwork of state laws on labeling, that have nothing in common, except for the lack of a scientific basis, is another example.

Milk Expiration Day

The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, co-produced a short documentary, called Not Really Expired, that portrays the waste of enormous amounts of milk in Montana. The state law demands a “sell-by” date of 12 days after pasteurisation, although according to Harvard scientists in most states milk is dated up to 21 or even 28 days after pasteurisation.

After 12 days, milk cannot be sold and stores have to throw it away and aren’t allowed to donate it either. And to make it worse, they cannot recycle the cartons but have to put the full cartons in the dumpsters.

Feeding Pigs

In the EU, using food waste as pig feed has been banned, following 2001’s foot-and-mouth disease epidemic. However, with technologies that have been used for years in East Asia, food waste can be safely turned into pig feed, which would save around 1.8 million hectares, an area of about half the size of Germany. An example is the ‘heat treatment’ of food waste, either by direct fire or through steam injection.

With direct fire, food waste is heated with flames, while steam injection involves injecting steam into the bottom of a load of food waste so that it is evenly heated as steam percolates through the food waste. But despite the available techniques, the ban continues, though other initiatives are used to try to fight the enormous waste of food, running as high as 40% of all food produced in the US and Europe.

Supermarket food waste

In France, legislation was passed in February 2016 that makes France the world's first country to ban supermarket waste and compel large retailers to donate unsold food – or face a huge fine. Italy followed in August, easing the donation of food by farmers, restaurants and others.

Though the laws were greeted with much enthusiasm, FDL spoke with Selina Juul, founder of the Stop Wasting Food movement, who points out that the problem is only pushed further on down the value chain and the root cause – the overproduction of food – is not addressed.

Alcoholic drinks

Alcoholic drinks give rise to an enormous diversity of laws. Among the strictest countries is Sweden, with a state owned monopoly of liquor stores for drinks with more than 3,5% of alcohol, called the Systembolaget. Ironically, a new ice cream, N1CE Cocktail, containing 5% alcohol, can be freely sold as the alcohol is not in liquid form.

The mirror-image of Sweden is Russia, which only defined beer as an alcoholic beverage in 2011, while as of 2017, the size of a plastic bottle will be limited to no more than 1,5 litres, a size not regularly found anywhere else.

Finally, Bernd van der Meulen, professor of food law at Wageningen University, has another problem with the way alcohol is marketed, as he explained to FDL: "A provision that causes me headache is the prohibition to say on the label that a food can cure a disease. This prohibition also applies in situations where the curative property is supported by solid scientific evidence. In the same line it is forbidden to make any statement that an alcoholic beverage has any positive health properties."

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