With 40 percent of our food going to waste each year, costing billions of dollars and causing tremendous ecological harm in the process, preventing food waste and ensuring wholesome food makes it to those in need is a top priority for the United States. USDA and EPA underscored the national importance of this issue when they announced the goal to halve U.S. food waste by 2030. The 2018 Farm Bill represents a valuable opportunity to address food waste in a way that benefits farmers, consumers, and the environment. Recognizing the potential for the farm bill to make a significant impact in this arena, FLPC published Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill last year. This report outlines 17 recommendations for incorporating food waste measures into the 2018 Farm Bill. While the U.S. House of Representatives’ draft Farm Bill failed to address the majority of FLPC’s suggestions with the exception of the recommendation to create a Food Loss and Waste Liaison within USDA (as discussed on our blog here), the Senate draft includes several important, common-sense provisions to reduce wasted food. The Senate’s Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (“AIA”), released on June 9, would conserve food and agricultural resources while providing nutrition to those who need it most.
Below we describe the proposed support for food waste reduction in the Senate’s bill, which includes several of FLPC’s own recommendations. We also point out some missed opportunities, including several of the most cost-effective and highest impact solutions. We hope the Senate, and the final Farm Bill, will include some of these other priorities. In the meantime, FLPC is excited that both the House and Senate versions mention “food waste” in the Farm Bill for the first time ever. We count this as progress!
New Food Waste Programs Aligned with FLPC’s Recommendations
Grant resources for food recovery infrastructure investments: The AIA proposes changes to the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to reduce waste of agricultural products. TEFAP provides both food and administrative funding to states for purposes of providing emergency feeding assistance to those in need. The AIA would allocate $10 million per year to states for projects “harvesting, processing, or packaging” donated agricultural commodities. States can use this funding for projects that reduce the waste of agricultural products through donation, provide food to food insecure individuals, and create new partnerships to distribute food to those in need. The AIA also requires the USDA to provide guidance on best practices to reduce food waste among donated food commodities for TEFAP. This addition to TEFAP aligns with FLPC’s recommendation that the Farm Bill include grants to support investment in food recovery infrastructure.
Pilot Project to Support State and Local Composting and Food Waste Reduction Plans: Food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills. The AIA would provide funding to support the development of local composting and food waste reduction efforts, along the lines of FLPC’s recommendation that the Farm Bill allocate federal funding to support state and local efforts to implement organic waste bans and food waste reduction plans. Specifically, it would allocate $25 million per year for pilot projects in at least ten states to develop and implement municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans. Eligible projects must increase access to compost for agricultural producers, encourage waste management and permaculture business development, reduce municipal food waste, and divert food waste from landfills, among others. Projects applying for funds will receive priority review if they address other food waste strategies, including food recovery efforts. FLPC applauds the inclusion of these funds in the Senate draft bill.
Study on Food Waste: Because comprehensive research on the amount and causes of food waste in the U.S. has been limited, FLPC recommends that Congress provide funding for comprehensive research on food waste. The AIA requires USDA to conduct a study to evaluate the available methods to measure food waste, standards for food waste volume, and factors that cause food waste. USDA would be required to submit a report on the results within one year, and in subsequent years would be required to submit an annual report that includes an estimate of food waste in that year and best practices or recommendations for food waste reduction. This ongoing research would provide important data and support the development of best practices for reducing food waste.
Local Agriculture Marketing Program: The AIA would establish the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), combining the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) with the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and providing $60 million per year in permanent mandatory funding. LAMP would provide grants to business and non-profits for a range of eligible activities, including the promotion of “new business opportunities and marketing strategies to reduce on-farm food waste.” This provision aligns with FLPC’s recommendation to amend the language authorizing LFPP grants to include “food-recovery related businesses or nonprofits” as entities eligible for the program, to ensure they are eligible to benefit from these funds.
Spoilage prevention: FLPC recommended that Congress provide grant funding for new technologies to slow food spoilage . The AIA would amend the Speciality Crop Research Initiative to include funding for efforts to better understand systems to “improve and extend the storage life of specialty crops.” Specialty crops is the technical term for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other horticulture crops.
Although there is much to commend in the AIA, many of FLPC’s top food waste recommendations, including some of the most cost-effective policy opportunities, were not addressed. These include:
Standardize date labeling: Approximately 20 percent of food waste is caused by confusion over food date labelling such as sell by, best by, use by, etc., which lead uncertain consumers, food businesses, and even food banks to throw away food that is still perfectly safe to eat. To address this, FLPC advocates for the standardization of date labels at the federal level by providing two standard phrases for manufacturers to use on food products: “BEST If used by” to indicate a quality date and “USE By” to indicate a discard date. Standardizing date labels has been found to be one of the most cost-effective solutions to food waste.
Increase awareness and enhance liability protection: The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides comprehensive federal liability protection for food donors and the non-profits they partner with to distribute food. By reducing liability risk, the Emerson Act encourages donation. While the Emerson Act provides strong protection, many potential donors are not aware of these protections or have questions about their scope, and there are also opportunities to enhance these protections to reflect the modern food recovery landscape. The Farm Bill provides an opportunity for Congress to task USDA with clarifying the scope of the Emerson Act and raising awareness of the Act. The Food Donation Act, sponsored by Senator Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), addresses these needs for clarification and expansion of protection, and the language from this act should be included in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Create an Office of Food Waste Reduction: National policies and programs are often developed without food waste in mind. In order to increase awareness of food waste and identify opportunities to address it, FLPC recommends the establishment of an Office or Liaison position within USDA, responsible for coordinating food waste reduction efforts. This new office or liaison would be tasked with developing and implementing food waste reduction and food recovery programs, identifying opportunities to improve federal food waste programs, and guiding businesses in their waste reduction efforts. While the House draft of the Farm Bill would create a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison position within the USDA, the Senate draft does not, representing an important missed opportunity.
While neither the House nor the Senate’s versions of the farm bill address all of FLPC’s recommendations, it is clear that the Senate Ag Committee is taking food waste far more seriously, and they are to be commended for the steps taken so far. FLPC will continue to encourage Congress to take additional steps that could help ensure that all of the food we work so hard to produce in this country does not go to waste.