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German ministers urge leniency for taking thrown-out food

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BERLIN (AP) — Two German government ministers are calling for authorities to relax the application of rules enabling the prosecution of people who take food that is still fit for consumption from supermarket garbage bins.

Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said in a statement Tuesday that they wrote to the justice ministers of Germany’s 16 states to suggest a “practical solution” to the issue. In the highly decentralized country, it is the states that would have the power to make the change.

The practice known in Germany as “containering” counts as theft for legal purposes. The ministers’ statement said that around 11 million tons of food are thrown away every year in the country, about 7% of it in the retail sector due to factors such as traders ordering more than they can sell. Another 17% comes from restaurants, canteens and the like.

“If people take home food that has been thrown away without causing damage or unlawful entry, then, in my opinion, that should no longer be prosecuted,” Buschmann said. Ozdemir said refraining from prosecuting such cases “is one of many elements in the fight against food waste.”

The two ministers called for state governments to support a proposal by Hamburg’s local government under which a clause would be added to prosecution guidelines to specifically address “containering.” No actual change to the law would be required.

The proposed clause would state that, in cases where the value of the stolen goods is low and no criminal complaint was filed, there is, as a rule, no public interest in going ahead with prosecution.

Cases which involve damage or trespassing that goes beyond “overcoming a physical obstacle without deploying significant effort” would still be prosecuted.

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