Child Nutrition Reauthorization Can Reduce Food Waste

Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to better address childhood food insecurity while simultaneously advancing climate impact goals through food waste reduction in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR)—a periodic update of laws that impacts the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), amongst others. NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) co-authored a new report alongside the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, and ReFED outlining 14 tangible ways CNR can reduce food waste.

The new report, Leveraging Child Nutrition Reauthorization to Reduce Food Waste, considers recent U.S. commitments made during the Climate Summit to aggressively cut emissions by at least 50% (from 2005 levels) by 2030. The report suggests CNR should advance several of the policies outlined in the recently released Food Loss and Waste Policy Action Plan for Congress and the Administration—a framework created to take ambitious action to cut US food loss and waste. CNR can directly contribute to these goals by leveraging the recommendations outlined in the report, which includes the following high-level measures:

  • General food waste prevention and food donation recommendations, such as expanding the liability protections for food donors provided by the Emerson Act and standardizing and clarifying date labels to establish a federal system that guides consumers on food safety and quality.
  • Specific changes to:
    • ​School meal programs, such as incentivizing school food waste audits as well as participation in the FDA’s Food Recovery Challenge
    • The Child and Adult Care Food Program, such as including food waste reduction training in operator licensing and incentivizing operators to conduct food waste audits.
    • WIC, such as requiring food waste reduction training in their nutrition education and ensuring loca WIC authorities are trained in food waste reduction. 

The report also highlights administrative opportunities in several places in the report, through which USDA and FDA could prioritize food waste reduction independent of new Congressional action.  

Food safety, food insecurity, and food waste are all interrelated problems and when a policy lever addresses one, it should also aim to address the others. If passed and implemented, the recommendations in this report will have noticeable positive impacts to reduce food waste and increase food donations in communities all over the country. 

The critical impact of CNR-authorized programs is apparent throughout school, recreation centers, and other initiatives across the country. While redirecting surplus food that would have otherwise gone to waste is not a systemic solution to hunger, policies associated with alleviating food insecurity—like CNR programs intended to increase safe food donations—are interrelated with policies that can drastically reduce food waste. It’s time for congress to make a concerted effort to increase healthy childhood food access, reduce food waste and act on climate.   

About the Authors

Madeline Keating

City Strategist, Healthy People and Thriving Communities Program
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