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2018 Farm Bill Includes Major Food Waste Reduction Provisions, Including Several FLPC Recommendations

Written by Katie Sandson, FLPC Clinical Fellow; JD ’17, Harvard Law School

This week, the House and Senate passed the 2018 Farm Bill, and the bill is expected to be signed early next week. The 2018 farm bill is the first ever to include funding and programs to address the harmful social, environmental, and economic impacts of wasted food! For more detail about these programs, read our earlier blog post here.

The farm bill allocates nearly 500 billion dollars to programs related to the food system. Yet historically, none of that money has gone to addressing the harmful social, environmental, and economic impacts of wasted food. Recognizing the farm bill as an important opportunity to act to reduce food waste, FLPC published the report Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill in May 2017. This report identifies 17 recommendations for addressing food waste through the farm bill. The 2018 Farm Bill included nine measures related to food waste, seven of which FLPC recommended in this report.

The inclusion of these programs in the farm bill is the culmination of years of work for FLPC and represents a major victory for the food waste community. For me, it also provides an opportunity to look back on my time as a student in the clinic. In spring 2017, as a third-year law student, I worked with a team of students and staff to research and draft the report mentioned above, building on the work of students in previous semesters. We were tasked with reviewing prior farm bills and identifying existing programs that could be adapted to better address food waste, as well as opportunities to propose new food waste programs and policies within the scope of the farm bill. At the time, I knew hardly anything about the farm bill, but it quickly became apparent that food waste reduction, recovery, and recycling fit within the goals of many existing programs, and that the farm bill was a natural vehicle for addressing food waste systemically.

Once we identified key objectives and recommendations for incorporating food waste measures in the farm bill, we worked closely with our partners at ReFED and Food Policy Action, as well as other leaders in the food waste space, to refine and strengthen our recommendations. Following the release of our report, FLPC also participated in a fly-in on Capitol Hill alongside our partner organizations, meeting with dozens of staffers and legislators to educate them about opportunities to include policies and programs to address food waste in the farm bill.

As a result of these efforts, and the efforts of other food waste reduction leaders across the country, the 2018 farm bill includes measures to prevent food waste by promoting spoilage prevention technology; to increase food recovery by strengthening liability protections for food donors and supporting food recovery infrastructure; to promote food waste recycling through local compost plans and the promotion of biogas; and to better coordinate food waste reduction efforts across the federal government. Some of the key food waste programs in the 2018 farm bill that FLPC recommended in it report include:

Food Donation Standards

FLPC has long advocated for changes to expand liability protections for food donors and recipient organizations and to provide guidance on these liability protections. One of our key recommendations has been to provide liability protections for food donations made directly to individuals. Currently, under the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, donors receive liability protection only for donations made to a nonprofit organization that distributes the food to those in need. Extending liability protections to direct donations can increase efficiency, reduce costs, enable timely use of perishable food, and support donation where quantities of surplus food are too small to be used by a food recovery organization.

Along the lines of FLPC’s recommendations, the 2018 Farm Bill includes a provision allowing for food donation directly from certain donors to individuals. This provision also requires USDA to create guidance on direct donations, consistent with FLPC’s recommendations.

Pilot project to support local composting and food waste reduction plans

Food waste is the single largest component in municipal landfills. States and localities are increasingly adopting policies to reduce and manage food waste and organic waste generally. For example, organic waste bans prevent certain entities that generate food waste from sending this waste to landfills. For many reasons, these policies are best administered at the state and local level. However, the federal government can play an important role by providing funding for states and localities to implement these strategies. 

The 2018 Farm Bill includes funding to support pilot projects in at least 10 states to develop and implement municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans. This program closely mirrors FLPC’s recommendation that the farm bill include funding to support state and municipal organic waste bans and zero waste plans.

Food Loss and Waste Liaison and Study on Food Waste

Food waste reduction is often overlooked in the development and implementation of programs that impact the food system. To facilitate improved coordination of food waste reduction efforts and ensure that food waste is considered in the development of policies and programs, FLPC recommended the creation of a food waste reduction office or coordinator within USDA.

The 2018 Farm Bill established the Food Loss and Waste Liaison position, consistent with this recommendation. The Liaison will be tasked with coordinating federal programs to reduce food waste. The Liaison is also charged with conducting a study evaluating the volume and cost of food food waste, as well as contributing factors and the efficacy of current metrics, consistent with another of FLPC’s recommendations.

Over the past year as a clinical fellow, I’ve devoted time to helping develop FLPC clinic projects with the student experience in mind. This has allowed me to look back with greater appreciation for the opportunity to work on this report as a student. This project embodied many of the experiences FLPC hopes to give students: the opportunity to develop policy recommendations, to receive feedback from experts and work with them to improve the recommendations, to advocate for these recommendations, and to ultimately see them become law.

Looking ahead, FLPC is looking forward to working with our students and partner organizations to help implement these exciting new programs to further our food waste reduction efforts!

To read more about the farm bill and review farm bill score cards from FLPC’s broader farm bill initiative, visit the Farm Bill Law Enterprise website here.