The French MPs believe that despite a “national pact against food wastage” launched last year in France, measures preventing still-edible food being thrown away are “insufficient”.
They cited a World Food Organisation estimate that a third of food products on the planet that are still fit for human consumption are currently “lost or wasted”.
The MPs said they were targeting larger food chains as their “logistics and important stock” made it easier for them to organise such donations than smaller shops.
In France alone, each supermarket produces 200 tons of waste per year. The French throw away between 20 to 30kg of food waste each year, seven of which are unopened when they hit the rubbish bin – representing an estimated €400 (£318) of wasted food per home.
French supermarkets already hand over large amounts of unsold foodstuffs to charity, with Secours Populaire, one association, saying half of the meals it distributed to the poor last year came from big food stores.
Gaëtan Lassale, head of the French federation of food banks, welcomed the proposal, saying: “Donations already work very well in France thanks to tax break incentives, but this text is a good thing as it will enable us to gather even more unsold produce.”
However, he told Le Journal du Dimanche the proposed law would put charities under financial strain as they would be forced to invest in “cold storage, refrigerated lorries or hangars” to store the food.
“Who will pay?” he asked.
Officials of the European Commission recently tabled proposals to allow national governments to extend the list of foods that do not require best-before dates, in a move which they believe will mean 15 million tons less food a year is discarded by households wrongly worried that it is no longer fit for consumption.
In the UK, the Government has estimated that unnecessarily discarded food costs the average British household £480 a year, rising to £680 for a family with children, the equivalent of about £50 a month.
Families still discard 7.2 million tons of food and drink every year, most of which could have been eaten.
Britain has not yet backed the EU proposals and has instead urged a full investigation into safety aspects of the change.