Geopolitics

What A Waste: Uneaten Food A Global (And French Gourmand) Problem

Masters at preparing food, the French are also pretty good at tossing it away -- to the tune of 44 pounds per person annually. They are not alone. According to an FAO study, only half of the world's food actually makes it in to people's

What A Waste: Uneaten Food A Global (And French Gourmand) Problem
Julien Dupont

At this point it takes more than a million gallons of free milk, or the fact that he has just filled an entire trailer with soon-to-be expired yogurt, to surprise Maurice Lony. As president of the French Federation of Food Banks, Lony says he is "so used to food waste." Last year his organization collected a whopping 103,244 tons of food, a veritable mountain of groceries that would have otherwise been discarded.

Half of that food came from the French state, from an annual collection provided by individuals and European agricultural stocks; the other half came from the food industry and supermarkets. Everything goes to the kitchens of people in need, distributed through partner charities. "We retrieve products that cannot be sold but that are perfectly edible, like products that are not correctly labeled or are close to their sell-by date," says Lony.

Just about everyone does their share of wasting: farmers who calibrate their fruit and vegetables, transporters who damage their fruit, producers who aim for perfectly unblemished produce, retailers who pack their shelves to the brim, restaurants that serve over-generous plates, and individuals who do not pay enough attention to sell-by dates.

"In the cities where big events are regularly organized, up to a third of the meals served end up in the garbage," says Benoît Hartmann, spokesman for an organization called France Nature Environnement. "It's an indecent and irresponsible practice. We must not forget the environmental consequences, all the pesticides, the land and the water and the means of transport, all used for no reason at all!"

According to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) -- the only institution providing figures on the subject -- French retailers remove from their shelves 1.3 million tons of organic waste each year. French citizens are not any better: they throw away an average of 44 pounds of food each year, or little more than 15 pounds of food past their sell-by date and 28 pounds of food scraps and leftovers.

"The subject is still a delicate one. When asked the question, nine out of every 10 French people say they do not throw away any food. It is as if they simply refuse to admit the reality that our society is wasting food," says Lydia Ougier of ADEME's prevention and waste management department.

"Today, our economy processes more raw products than ever before, transporting them over long distances and using state-of-the-art time management planning," explains agronomist Michael Griffin, vice-president of the French National Research Agency. "The obvious result is that the coefficient of food that is not consumed is very high. The world did not have this problem before the 1960s, when the food circuit was much shorter."

A global study conducted in 2008 by the International Water Institute in Stockholm on behalf of FAO confirms the scale of the problem. The study states that about half of all food produced in the world will never actually make it into anyone's mouth! "In developing countries crops are often destroyed by disease and losses are quite significant," says Griffon. "In developed countries, it is the practices of companies and individuals that end up causing such an impressive amount of waste."

In the United States, 40% of the raw food produced ends up in the trash, according to a study published in November 2010 in the PLOS One journal. In Britain, the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates the cost of British food waste at approximately $18 billion per year.

It is clear, then, that the war against food waste has yet to really begin. The only cause for hope right now is the wallet. Since the economic crisis started in 2008, food rescue charities and food banks are finding that the amount of food they collect is stagnating. Some of the "blame" goes to supermarkets, which – in an effort to reduce costs – have significantly improved inventory management.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Sporkist

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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