Food Waste Goes to Capitol Hill: NRDC Testifies Before House Committee Today

It’s been an exciting few weeks for those of us working reduce the massive 40% of food that goes to waste less in America every year.

First, in late April, we at NRDC teamed up with the Ad Council to launch Save the Food, a national media ad campaign that’s aimed at reducing this waste from consumers, who are directly responsible for a larger chunk of food waste than grocery stores, restaurants or any other single part of the supply chain. The goal is to provide both inspiration and information to help people waste less in their own lives. The campaign includes a television PSA, billboard, print and web advertising, as well as social communities on all the usual suspects: FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest. All of these resources direct people to SaveTheFood.com, where they can find food waste-reduction tips on making use of leftovers, properly storing different foods, developing meal and shopping plans, and more.

Also last month, a report released by a collaboration of business, government, investor, foundation and nonprofit leaders identified consumer education campaigns—like Save the Food—as one of the best ways to cut U.S. food waste and put the country on track to reach new national reduction targets set by the Obama administration last fall (aiming for a 50% cut by 2030).

And now, a federal legislative effort is underway to further tackle food waste at the consumer level. Just last week Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Food Date Labeling Act to tackle one of the biggest sources of consumer confusion that leads to waste. Contrary to popular belief, expiration date labels don’t actually indicate whether or not food is still safe to eat. Yet a majority of people believe they do, and toss perfectly good food in the trash because of it. This bill will help clarify the true meaning of these dates, giving consumers a better sense of food’s freshness, and ultimately leading to less of it going to waste. If you’ve ever debated whether the past-date-but-perfectly-fine-smelling yogurt is still good to eat with your spouse, roommate, or family member, this is the bill to get out and support.

Amidst all of this progress, today I’ll be testifying before the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives at an educational hearing entitled “Food Waste from Field to Table.” The goal of the hearing is to help our leaders in Washington better understand the issue of food waste and how policy change could help reduce it. 

I’ll start by laying out the problem: 40 percent of food in the U.S. gets trashed. And when good food goes to waste, so do all of the resources used to grow, store and transport it:

  • If global food loss and waste was a country, it would have the world’s largest greenhouse gas footprint after the U.S. and China.
  • 28 percent of the world’s agricultural land—an area larger than Canada—is used to grow food that never gets eaten.
  • In the U.S., 25 percent of our nation’s fresh water goes into producing food that is never eaten.
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.

This is not just a major environmental problem, but an economic one. The U.S. is throwing away $162 billion worth of food each year. In fact, the average American family of four spends roughly $1,500 every year on food they never eat. Yet, at the same time, one in seven Americans is food insecure.

There are a number of policy solutions that I will be urging Congress to consider, starting with the Food Date Labeling Act and then moving to other ways Congress can help address consumer waste, data gaps, farm losses, waste within the federal government, and many of the solutions set forward through another pending bill from Rep. Pingree’s called the Food Recovery Act

Read my full prepared written testimony here.

Wasting less food is bigger than it sounds. It’s about using our resources wisely and ensuring that no food goes to waste while others stand by hungry. It’s not a red or a blue issue, it’s a people issue, and we have the power to change it. I’m pleased to see the members of Congress exploring what they too can do about it. 

About the Authors

Dana Gunders

Senior Scientist, Food & Agriculture program

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