First Congressional Bill to Reduce U.S. Food Waste Introduced

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Yesterday marked a critical pivot from good intention towards action in our nation's pursuit to waste less food: Congresswoman Chellie Pingree introduced the Food Recovery Act to Congress. With almost two dozen provisions, the bill has the potential to radically reduce the amount of food wasted across the economy.

It's been an exciting fall in the world of food waste. In September, both the Obama Administration and the United Nations adopted ambitious targets to cut food waste in half by 2030. Last Friday, the G20 launched a Technical Platform to aid in the effort. And now, the Food Recovery Act goes beyond commitments to offer specific actions and policies that the U.S. can adopt now to significantly cut back on the amount of food wasted.

The bill is a soup to nuts approach. It has provisions that direct USDA research, revise National School Lunch Program procurement rules, require food donation by federal food service vendors, and fund compost and anaerobic infrastructure development. A few key provisions that I'm particularly excited about include:

  • Standardizing food dates: In order to reduce the amount of food that's prematurely discarded due to misinterpretation of the dates on food, the bill standardizes food date labels to just two phrases--one used to indicate quality (which would apply to most foods) and another for high-risk foods where there actually could be a safety issue (designated by the FDA).
  • Supporting awareness and education: The bill directs funding towards both broad consumer awareness as well as youth education. Creating awareness in homes is critical as consumers are huge contributors to how much waste is out there, and educating the next generation is clearly a priority in order to instill good habits early on.
  • USDA Office of Food Recovery: As existed during the Clinton Administration, the bill establishes an office responsible for coordinating measurement and federal activities. A little accountability and coordination would do a [government] body good.
  • Infrastructure fund for states with landfill organics bans: The bill creates a fund for construction of large-scale composting and anaerobic digestion, but only for those states that have banned organics (i.e., food scraps) from their landfills. This is an interesting way to both build more food scrap recycling capacity and also incentivize more states to enact such a ban.

There are about 20 more provisions to check out as part of the actual bill, which, along with updates, you can see here.

I congratulate Rep. Pingree on showing leadership by putting the Food Recovery Act forward. If enacted, it will certainly make a real dent in our food waste footprint. Now, she'll need all the support she can get to drive some movement through Congress, particularly in an election year!

About the Authors

Dana Gunders

Senior Scientist, Food & Agriculture program

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