Will We Address Food Waste as A Country?


Opportunities abound for entrepreneurs who want to carve out a business niche in the food supply chain—from farm to table. But what happens after the table, when 40 percent of the food produced in this country goes to the landfill or down the disposal? The short answer: there’s lots of room for improvement, and it’s going to take both business and legislative smarts to stop the avalanche of food waste in this country. 

Last week U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-D) announced at the NY Times Food for Tomorrow Conference that she will be introducing a bill to address our country’s food waste problem. It could be a huge step toward solving one of our food system’s most vexing problems.

Although the bill is not yet in its final draft, Rep. Pingree assures that it advocates several different approaches to the problem. Given the magnitude of food waste in our country, we need them all. About 40% of food in this country is wasted somewhere from the field to the end consumer.

Sell-by dates…

One big reason is confusion about sell-by dates. Pingree’s bill may address this issue by adding disclaimers about accuracy on these labels.  Meredith Goad of the Portland Press Herald quotes Pingree:

A lot of people mistakenly think there is some sort of government standard for ‘best by’ dates and that you have to throw out food once the date is passed,”

Ease up on donation rules...

Another factor in food waste is our inability to legally donate or procure food that is slated for the landfill. Pingree’s bill will expand the Good Samaritan law to better facilitate businesses and non-profit organizations collaborating to save perfectly good food, according to  Anna Roth of Civil Eats.

Stop demanding perfection...

Consumer demand for cosmetically “perfect” produce creates tons of waste at the farm level. Pingree’s bill provides tax incentives for farmers and retailers who donate or sell “ugly produce.” There is also talk of reforming school lunch programs so that they can procure unwanted produce.

Preach the benefits of less waste...

Finally, lack of consumer awareness is a huge part of our food waste problem. People just don’t know it’s a problem! The bill would launch consumer-awareness campaigns.

In a recent interview with Civil Eats, Pingree explains why she is drafting the bill:

I was thinking about when we got into recycling in this country. Now people will walk around a building to find the bucket for cans and bottles. We have a [shared] sensibility about it and communities have recycling operations. Food waste should be the same. You should feel bad if you’re scraping food into your garbage can instead of putting it in a bucket that gets picked up in your community and turned into compost."

Creating national awareness will take time and support. Last month, the Obama Administration announced that the USDA and the EPA are working to set goals to reduce U.S. food waste by 50 percent in the next 15 years. It’s the first time government agencies have ever directly addressed the issue. Reports of industry support for these goals is yet another development that bodes well for Pingree’s initiative. It need not be a partisan issue. Pingree explains that while her work on the Farm Bill was challenged by many, she does not see much room for argument on food waste:

… I think in many ways we’re talking about things that actually aren’t as controversial as some of the farm issues we work on, and I think there’s already a heightened level of awareness from restaurant owners, retailers, and consumers. So I think we’ll work at getting a broad base of support."

Echoing those sentiments, Meredith Goad of the Portland Press Herald quoted Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland (which played a big role in bringing food waste national attention), on how Congress can really run with this bill:

The gridlock certainly hasn’t helped the past decade or so,” Bloom said, “but to me, reducing the amount of food wasted in America is possibly one of the few issues that liberals and conservatives alike can get behind. Hopefully that notion leads to some actual success on this bill.”

Fixing our food waste problem will have huge implications for hunger relief, the environmental impact of our waste disposal, and the food economy. We’re thrilled that Pingree is leading the charge and we’re excited to see the final draft. We hope that it gets pushed right along through Congress, and we’ll keep you posted.


 Read all articles by Damon Cory Watson


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