The enormous carbon footprint of food that we never even eat

Originally published by The Washington Post on March 28, 2016

Discussions about how to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions frequently center on clean energy, more efficient transportation and sustainable agriculture. But research suggests that if we really want to pay attention to our carbon footprints, we should also be focusing on another, less-talked-about issue: the amount of food we waste each day.

Food waste is already a hot topic in its own right. But with mounting concerns about our ability to feed the world’s growing population (expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050), cutting down on food waste is a big concern for experts in global food security. Wasted food is a major problem worldwide: In a 2011 report, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that, in 2007, about 1.6 billion tons of food were wasted. For comparison, about 6 billion tons of food were produced globally that year.

But an aspect of the food-waste issue that has perhaps received less attention is its contribution to global greenhouse-gas emissions. In the same report, the FAO estimated that in 2007, the global carbon footprint of all of this wasted food was about 3.3 billion tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents — that’s 7 percent of all global emissions. To put that into perspective, this is more carbon than most countries emit in a year. In fact, only China and the United States exceeded this amount in nationwide carbon emissions that year.

This estimate includes the carbon footprints of all the work that goes into producing this uneaten food — all of the energy that goes into maintaining a farm and producing the food, as well as the emissions that come from soil and livestock. The estimate doesn’t include the carbon emissions that result from converting land for agricultural use or the greenhouse gases that would be emitted by wasted food in landfills. Accounting for those would drive the numbers even higher.

A massive amount of needlessly emitted carbon is poured into the atmosphere to produce unused food. These wasted carbon emissions could be prevented if we made sure that no more food was produced than was going to actually be used.

“The first step is really figuring out what is the right amount that we need to produce,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and an assistant clinical professor of law. Much of the food that goes to waste could be used by people who aren’t getting enough to eat. But it’s also likely that we could stand to reduce our overall production as well, cutting some of those emissions entirely.

“I do think there’s a sweet spot, and we’re not hitting it right now,” Broad Leib said.

Fortunately, cutting down on food waste is a campaign that’s been gaining traction recently. In France, for instance, a new law bans supermarkets from throwing out unsold food, requiring them to donate it instead.

A similar bill, which proposes targets for manufacturers and distributors to reduce certain food waste, is awaiting its fate in Britain’s Parliament. The bill, introduced in September, was meant to have a second reading earlier this month, but it was placed too far down on the agenda to make it to debate, a situation that some have suggested reflects the government’s apathy toward the bill.

Still, it has gained support among some citizens who recognize its potential to aid in food and climate security. In a commentary published earlier this week in the British Medical Journal, three experts in food policy and public health cited the massive carbon footprint of food waste and noted, “The environmental impact of producing food is enormous, so waste contributes needlessly to climate change, loss of biodiversity, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, and use of scarce agricultural land and limited freshwater resources.”

Meanwhile, no such federal laws exist in the United States, although last year the Obama administration announced a new goal of cutting national food waste in half by 2030. That said, some states are working to address the issue with their own legislation.

proposed bill in California, for instance, would change the wording on the expiration dates on packaged food to prevent consumers from throwing away products that are still safe to eat. The bill suggests a “best by” label to indicate when a food will be at its best quality and an “expires on” label only for highly perishable foods that would be truly unsafe to eat after a certain date.

These are helpful types of legislation — but research suggests that we also need to be addressing waste on the production side. The FAO points out that food waste occurs at all stages of the supply chain, but the biggest culprit is agricultural production, which accounts for about a third of all food lost.

The FAO published its own set of tips for reducing waste along the supply chain, noting that better resource allocation and improved technology could be instrumental in preventing food waste during the harvesting and processing phases of food production.

For instance, the report notes, “Fresh products such as fruits, vegetables, meat and fish straight from the farm, or after the catch, can spoil quickly in hot climates due to lack of infrastructure for transportation, storage, cooling and markets. New technologies have been developed to improve storage as have green technologies, such as solar dryers that improve the lifetime of products in storage and, in turn, increase food security and economic benefits for the producers.”

Other experts think that focusing on specific kinds of improvements all along the supply chain can help reduce food waste in ways that are specifically designed to cut down on carbon emissions and help the climate.

A group of businesses, nonprofits and other organizations known as ReFED recently published a report titled “The Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent,” which includes a variety of strategies for cutting down on food waste. The report includes an interactive tool that indicates the best policy changes for food-waste reduction depending on the desired end goal — saving money or recovering meals, for instance.

When it comes to slashing carbon emissions, the analysis suggests that the three most important strategies include consumer education campaigns, waste tracking and analytics schemes and centralized composting, noting that “greenhouse gases are reduced per solution by avoiding the resources that go into producing, processing, and transporting food, as well as the methane emissions from food disposed of in landfills.”

Broad Leib, who serves on ReFED’s advisory council, noted that standardizing labeling on packaged food is also a key way to help people cut down on the amount of food wasted. And, in fact, date labeling is cited by the analysis as the fourth most important strategy when it comes to cutting down food-waste-related emissions, capable of cutting out nearly 1.6 million tons of wasted greenhouse-gas emissions per year.

Cumulatively, the report suggests that implementing these strategies and cutting food waste across the country by 20 percent could save up to 18 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions annually.

Altogether, the collective research on food waste and greenhouse gases provides a sobering reality check, one that is slowly gaining mainstream attention.

“I do think this is something on people’s radar in a way that it wasn’t for a while, and I think it’s probably two things happening at once — the kind of tying together of food waste and climate” Broad Leib said. “In a way, they grew up side by side. There’s things that obviously impact both of them separately from each other, but there’s certainly a big overlap and it’s certainly a thing a lot of people are talking about.”

And as more strategies emerge for addressing the food-waste problem, we may have a chance to tackle climate change in yet another way — this time, one plate at a time.

My Experience at AIDSWatch

Written by Anthony Parel, Northeastern University Class of 2016, and Winter 2016 Health Law and Policy Intern. Images courtesy of AIDSUnited.

AW16-9Last month, I stepped into a room where idealism could transform into realism through the voices of the strong and battle-tested. It was in this room where individuals from all across the United States gathered in Washington D.C. for the AIDSWatch conference. AIDSWatch is a HIV/AIDS advocacy event that the Center of Health Law and Policy Innovation, AIDSUnited, and the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus hosts annually. This gathering convenes people living with HIV and their allies to educate Congressional members and their staff on current issues related to HIV/AIDS.  Though distinct in experience and diverse in locality, our message was one and the same – we are here, we have a voice, and we will be heard.

February 29th was the first day of AIDSWatch and it was a day of mixed emotions. Personal stories were shared that helped me visualize the everyday struggles of the people living with HIV/AIDS. When midday came around, everyone separated into his or her respective state delegations to confirm scheduled hill visits. We organized into groups to meet with congressional health staffers and inform them about issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS specific to our state.

Following our state lunch, the conference broke out into networking sessions. The 30 for 30 Campaign networking session, which focused on women living with HIV, was the meeting that particularly struck a chord with me. This session shed light on the specific problems that women living with HIV face when compared to men. I previously did not know a lot of the data provided.

After an eventful first day, we finally separated into our respective state delegations. It was time to share this message with the Senators and Representatives. We went into the Capitol in the early hours of March 1st. We were visible as we walked up Constitution and Independence Avenue wearing red, the color of the red ribbon used to symbolize HIV. Our first meeting was with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s health staffer to discuss the importance of HIV/AIDS funding, HIV criminalization, and stable housing for those with the virus.  The meeting went very well and I was surprised to see how knowledgeable the staffer was on current issues that the HIV/AIDS community face. The experience of being on Capitol Hill was one I will not soon forget.

This was not my first time in D.C, but it was the first time I went with a new family. Despite being young and inexperienced, the advocates at AIDSWatch welcomed me with open arms and I quickly realized that it was no longer “me,” it was “we.” We were all allies – lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, cis-gender, black, white, Hispanic, or Asian – our diversity at AIDSWatch mirrors the impact of AIDS on humanity. The stories shared throughout the conference gave credence to the idea that despite our differences in age, income, and ability we stand as one coalition united in the fight to eradicate AIDS.


Read other blog posts about AIDSWatch:

  • Kevin Varner’s QNotesarticle here.
  • AIDS United’s AIDSWatch Recap blog here.
  • Barb Cardell’s Why AIDSWatch? blog here.

CHLPI Clinical Instructor Quoted in Minnesota’s Star Tribune

A March 30, 2016, article from Minnesota’s Star Tribune features an interview with CHLPI’s Carmel Shachar on high costs for AIDS medications. “Advocates decry insurer charges for AIDS drugs in Minnesota” examines the worrisome trend of health insurance providers categorizing certain medications, such as those for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, on the highest,  and most expensive for consumers, cost-sharing tiers.

Excerpt from article:

“In a report provided this month to the Star Tribune, researchers from Harvard Law School and the Minnesota AIDS Project highlight health plan options on the state’s MNsure exchange that feature high degrees of ‘cost-sharing’ for medications used by people with HIV.

The report, which also looked at hepatitis C medications, is one of the latest to examine how health insurers in different states are covering HIV treatments on new government-run insurance exchanges.

‘I think they know the impact that putting high cost-sharing on these medications has to deter people,’ said Carmel Shachar, an attorney at Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. ‘We do think the pattern of tiering is suggestive of discrimination.’”

Read the full article, “Advocates decry insurer charges for AIDS drugs in Minnesota.”


Law Professors Form Innovative Academic Organization To Promote Field Of Food Law And Policy

Over the past decade, the field of Food Law and Policy has grown by leaps and bounds in law schools across the country. On a variety of metrics, the field is strong and growing, with more than 20 of the top 100 law schools offering courses in the field, and 30 clinics at 23 schools conducting related clinical work. But until now, Food Law and Policy has had no dedicated academic association to serve as a forum for individuals and institutions involved in its teaching and scholarship.

The Academy of Food Law and Policy (AFLP) is a newly-formed academic organization created to address this need. AFLP’s founding Board of Trustees includes Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Law School; Peter Barton Hutt, Covington and Burling (Adjunct Faculty, Harvard Law School); Neil Hamilton, Drake University Law School; Baylen Linnekin, Adjunct Faculty, George Mason Law School; Michael Roberts, UCLA School of Law; Susan Schneider, University of Arkansas School of Law; and Margaret Sova McCabe, University of New Hampshire School of Law. Founding institutional members include Harvard Law School, UCLA School of Law, University of Arkansas School of Law, and Drake Law School.

“As the first food law and policy clinic in the U.S., the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic has great interest in supporting other faculty and law schools in entering the field of food law and policy. I have worked with the other members of the Board of Trustees to establish the Academy of Food Law and Policy in order to provide a space for sharing ideas, knowledge and research, and nurturing social exchange among food law and policy colleagues. I look forward to working with the Board and members to build this into a vibrant organization that serves the needs of the growing community of food law and policy faculty and programs.” – Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and Founding Member of the Academy of Food Law and Policy.

The Academy’s mission is to:

  1. Engage and connect scholars and professors interested in Food Law & Policy;
  2. Facilitate scholarship, collaboration, and collegiality in this field;
  3. Encourage teaching and experiential learning opportunities; and
  4. Foster the next generation of food law and policy leaders.

The Academy will support local, regional, national, and international collaboration among scholars, professors, and clinicians via workshops, shared resources and materials, and promotion of teaching and engagement in Food Law & Policy issues. By building a strong network, the AFLP will provide a space for sharing ideas, knowledge, and research.

Within the broad mission of AFLP, specific activities and services will respond to the needs of members. These may include:

  • Tracking growth of this field through a survey to Academy members;
  • Sharing current events, upcoming conferences, and opportunities via the AFLP website;
  • Creating a forum for the discussion of Food Law and Policy news and developments;
  • Offering social events at conferences and events where AFLP members are present;
  • Hosting an annual AFLP workshop, on a topic of interest to AFLP members;
  • Providing opportunities for the sharing and workshopping of academic papers and articles; and
  • Providing evidence for faculty to share with their schools that this field of law is legitimate and growing.

Working together, law schools and scholars can continue to grow the field of Food Law and Policy through the creation of new courses, publications, centers, programs, and additional opportunities for student engagement and education about the laws and policies impacting our food. The AFLP will help fulfill these ambitions through collaboration and mutual enrichment of its members.

Further information on the Academy of Food Law and Policy can be found at

In the Health Law and Policy Clinic, a slew of opportunities to sharpen legal and policy skills

This blog is cross-posted from the Harvard Law School Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog.

By Kelly Jo Popkin, J.D. ’17

L-R: Kelly Jo

L-R: Kelly Jo Popkin, J.D. ’17; Robert Greenwald, Clinical Professor of Law; and Kevin Costello, Senior Associate Director and Litigation Manager

I became interested in the Health Law and Policy Clinic after solidifying my summer employment working with the General Counsel of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC). Unlike the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), where I worked as the organization’s U.S. Policy and Advocacy Analyst last summer, PPAC focuses on the legal issues affecting their seven clinics in California in the moment and on the ground. Though I had a firm grasp on reproductive legal and policy strategies thanks to CRR, I was forewarned by PPAC that I would need to know more about barriers to healthcare access, public health concerns, and health disparities writ large. The clinic seemed like the perfect way to learn about these issues while cultivating a useful skillset for my summertime employment.

In the first couple of weeks, I immersed myself into the world of health policy reform by taking a few projects with a tight turnaround time. Along with Lauren Kuhlik (J.D., MPH ’17), I assisted in drafting a  Supreme Court amicus brief re. Zubik v. Burwell, a follow-up to the Hobby Lobby decision. I also traveled to New York to visit a cancer center and assisted in launching their nonprofit lung cancer screening initiative for upper Manhattan. The excitement of the first few weeks has set the pace for the weeks to follow.

Working in the Health Law and Policy Clinic has given me exposure to a variety of public health topics, from HIV and hepatitis C, to specialty care access, to psychosocial determinants of health. The issues vary just as much as the policy tools used to address them. In one month’s time, I have drafted a policy roadmap for a community-based health organization, a preliminary injunction against a state Medicaid agency, a Supreme Court amicus brief, and an administrative complaint to the Office of Civil Rights. I have engaged in thorough legal analysis and research for all of my projects, using a wide swath of sources to evaluate case law, market statistics, and other indicators of health law and regulations as implemented in a post-Affordable Care Act landscape. I would highly recommend this clinic to any Harvard Law student interested in becoming well-versed in a variety of legal and policy strategies, whether or not they are considering a career in health law.

I would venture to say that I learned more in the few weeks working in the clinic than I had learned in my entire law school career thus far. My supervisors have provided constructive and crucial guidance every step of the way, and have gone out of their way to show how much our work is appreciated. For example, when Professor Robert Greenwald and Clinical Instructor Carmel Shachar learned that they couldn’t put our names on the Zubik amicus brief, they contacted Dean Martha Minow to acknowledge our hard work and praise us on a job well done.

While deeply invested in achieving impactful policy changes, the Health Law and Policy Clinic is equally invested in the cultivation of future policy advocates. Thanks to the clinic’s culture of mentorship, I feel competent and confident in my ability to produce meaningful work products this summer and for the years to come.

HHS Announces Plan to Propose Medicare Coverage of Diabetes Prevention Program

On Wednesday March 23, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a plan to propose Medicare coverage of the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a multi-session educational program designed to encourage participants to make lifestyle changes to improve their health and decrease their risk of type 2 diabetes.  This change will mark a historic step forward in the battle against type 2 diabetes in the United States, where roughly one in four individuals ages 65 and older are living with diabetes and more than half meet the criteria for prediabetes.

As the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) highlighted in its recent report, Beating Type 2 Diabetes: Recommendations for Federal Policy Reform, the DPP has shown great promise as a strategy for fighting type 2 diabetes, especially among seniors.  In a groundbreaking 2002 study, researchers found that participation in the DPP reduced the incidence of diabetes by 71% for individuals 60 years and older. Building upon that research, in 2011 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) awarded the YMCA more than $11.8 million to test the effectiveness of the DPP among certain Medicare beneficiaries.

In yesterday’s announcement, HHS released data highlighting the success of this demonstration. According to HHS, the Medicare beneficiaries in the program lost roughly 5% of their body weight, thereby reducing their risk of diabetes.  Additionally, the program resulted in healthcare savings of $2,650 per enrollee over a 15-month period.  Based upon these impressive results, HHS plans to use its authority under the Affordable Care Act to expand the demonstration to make the DPP broadly available across the Medicare program.

CHLPI applauds HHS for taking this innovative step to fight type 2 diabetes in the United States.  We encourage other public and private insurers to follow Medicare’s example in order to ensure that all Americans living with prediabetes have the chance to access the DPP and beat type 2 diabetes before it starts.

The Clinic Broadened My Horizons

This blog is cross-posted from the Harvard Law School Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog.

By Alexander Leone, J.D. ’16 

The Food Law and Policy Clinic is renowned for its groundbreaking work on a variety of issues, including a report it released with the Natural Resources Defense Council on the staggering amount of food we waste in the United States. As someone who has been interested in food since college—and in the countless ways it affects both body and mind and our natural world—the Clinic was on my radar even before I chose to attend Harvard Law School.

Alexander Leone, J.D. ’16

During my time in the Clinic, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on two projects that mirrored perfectly my deepest food policy concerns: the ways in which our food system affects, or disserves, society’s most vulnerable; and how our food production practices affect, or destroy, the environment.

First, I worked with an attorney and fellow student to draft a letter to federal legislators on what standards should govern what millions of children, particularly low-income children, eat for their school meals. That letter ultimately became a Clinic policy brief, which “urges Congress to continue progress towards making nutritious, healthy, and delicious school meals available to all children.” Second, I analyzed novel ways in which the tort system could be used to deter the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture, a practice that has been linked to the antibiotic resistance crisis that threatens the future of modern medicine.

My projects not only developed my research and writing skills, but enlightened me as to different ways in which to research and write. Contacting and conference calling with a variety of different stakeholders in the legislative process taught me perspectives that I wouldn’t find in a case book. The need to use creativity and analogy to craft arguments at the frontiers of existing legal doctrine sharpened my intellect in a manner unlike a traditional law school class. And I have hope that the efforts of the Clinic will concretely affect food policy—perhaps, for example, through persuasion of lawmakers who will determine what millions of children will be eating during school.

The Clinic also broadened my horizons at Harvard Law School: It led directly to my participation as president of the Harvard Food Law Society. The Clinic sharpened my knowledge of American food law and policy and prepared me to lead an organization that, primarily through educational talks and its annual conference, seeks to advance food justice in our community and society.

The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

CHLPI Launches 2nd Edition of the Community Use Toolkit in Franklin County, Massachusetts

Joint Use Toolkit March_2016 - cover page onlyOn March 21, CHLPI met with partners in Franklin County, Massachusetts, to promote community use of public and private buildings and grounds for physical recreation. In a Community Use Training with a special focus on libraries and Councils on Aging, CHLPI addressed opportunities for developing new community use initiatives and described special legal protections against liability for property-owners that open spaces to the general public free of charge. “Finding space for people to exercise in Franklin County is challenging because it’s so rural,” noted one of the training participants. “To get to a gym, they may have to drive 45 minutes or more. If we opened up the library in town in the evenings, it would be much easier.”

To assist community members in opening up new spaces for exercise and recreation, CHLPI created the Massachusetts Community Use Toolkit: Helping Kids and Communities Be Healthy and Active. Launched at the Franklin County training, the Toolkit is a step-by-step guide to creating and implementing community use initiatives, from identifying appropriate spaces to managing risk to finding funds. It contains sample documents, such as checklists, budgets, and Community Use Agreement templates, that readers can adapt to the unique needs and circumstances of their own towns and neighborhoods. Over the next year, CHLPI will continue to promote community use through dissemination of the Toolkit and provision of targeted technical assistance throughout Massachusetts.

Download the publication:

Complete Toolkit: Massachusetts Community Use Toolkit: Helping Kids and Communities Be Healthy and Active

Individual sections of the Toolkit for easy printing:
Site Visit Checklist
Sample Community Use Timeline
Sample Community Use Budget
Model Community Use Agreement
Community Use of Schools Checklist
Community Use Agreement Checklist

Emily Broad Leib quoted in Huffington Post

The Huffington Post
March 21, 2016

What The US Can Learn From UK Supermarket Donating Unsold Food
One of the U.K.’s — and the world’s — biggest grocery store chains announced big news on the food waste front this month. In the coming months, Tesco, which boasts some 6,800 stores worldwide but is headquartered in England, will expand its 14-store trial run of an initiative that saved the equivalent of 50,000 meals worth of food from heading to a landfill, donating that food, instead, to charity groups…Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, says that is because the U.S. has arrived at the issue later than countries like France and the U.K., where efforts to address the issue have gotten a significant head start on the U.S. and are, just now, coming to fruition. Still, Leib noted, Americans are making significant progress. “I do think it’s on the radar of more and more stores,” Leib told The Huffington Post.

Read the full article here.

Senator Blumenthal Announces Federal Bill to Reform Date Labels

Written by Austin Bryniarski, Yale College, and former FLPC 2014 summer intern

On Thursday, Feb. 18, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic participated in a roundtable discussion on federal legislation to reform date labeling, hosted by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The senator announced his intention to introduce a bill that would create a national standard for date labels on food products. The legislation comes after years of legal research on food waste and date labels at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.

The roundtable, hosted at Stew Leonard’s of Newington, Conn., included Ona Balkus, Senior Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Steve Armstrong, Chief Food Law Counsel at Campbell Soup Company, representatives from Stew Leonard’s grocery store, the Connecticut Food Bank, Foodshare, and several former FLPC summer interns from Yale College and Law School. The group discussed how the legislation would allow food businesses to meet a uniform standard across the industry, allow for more high quality and wholesome food to be sold or donated, and divert greenhouse gas-emitting food waste from landfills. The current system of date labeling is inconsistent and confusing, causing consumers to throw away wholesome food. This system contributes to a food waste epidemic that wastes 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. and costs the average family over $1500 annually. Blumenthal’s legislation would clarify and standardize those labels.

The bill proposes a dual label system, which will distinguish between a quality date and a safety date. The quality date will be indicated by the phrase “best if used by,” while the safety date will be indicated by the phrase “expires on.” The current system makes no distinction between whether a date label is conveying information about quality or safety, causing consumers to throw food away, even if it is perfectly safe to eat. The bill also mandates that the Food and Drug Administration provide consumer education on the new system, so that consumers are aware of the new labels and what they mean. The legislation would also ensure that states could not create date labeling laws that prohibit sale or donation of food after the quality date, amending state laws that currently forbid the donation of perfectly safe food.

For more coverage of the event, check out coverage from CBS, WTNH, Hartford Courant, and Fox. Sen. Blumenthal’s introduction coincides with the release of Expired, a short film by the FLPC that explores the connection between food labeling laws and food waste.

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