This New Study Calculates the Amount of Extra Food the World Produces Due to Waste and Overeating

Originally published by MarketWatch on August 28, 2019. Written by Brett Arends.

Fires are burning in the Amazon. Again.

New data from Brazil’s space research agency shows the devastation. The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) said its satellite data showed an 84% increase in fire loss from the same period in 2018, well greater than what might typically be expected from losses in the fire-prone dry season that includes this month, it asserts.

Brazilian-published satellite images show a sharp increase in clearances of trees over the first half of this year; it’s home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest, which contribute approximately 20% of the world’s oxygen, scientists noted. The Bolsonaro administration has favored development by loggers and farmers over conservation, his detractors emphasize.

Last Friday, Finland’s finance minister Mika Lintila called on European Union leaders to “urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports” over the fires. Finland currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. In 2018, Brazil was the world’s largest exporter of beef, providing nearly 20% of total global beef exports, outpacing India, the second-largest exporter, by 527,000 metric tons carcass weight equivalent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Collectively, the world’s population has eaten about 140 billion metric tons more food than we need, estimate scientists Elisabetta Toti of the Italian Council for Agricultural Research and Economics, and Carla Di Mattia and Mauro Serafini of Italy’s University of Teramo. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, obesity has tripled world-wide since 1975. Nearly two million people world-wide are now overweight, including about two-fifths of adults. And approximately 650 million people are obese.

The latest research is published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. “High energy foods have been shown to be the major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, challenging the diet-environment-health triangle,” the authors said. “The waste of resources and the unnecessary ecological cost due to an excessive consumption of foods leading to obesity have been ignored so far. Metabolic Food Waste corresponds to the amount of food leading to excess body fat and its impact on the environment, expressed as carbon, water and land footprint.”

Their calculations are based on global databases of populations and food consumption. Most of the overeating took place in Europe and the United States, followed by Latin America and the richer countries of Asia, such as Japan, they added. The biggest culprits among the food groups were dairy products (and eggs), followed by alcoholic drinks, cereals and meat.

Food production puts a strain on the world’s water and land resources, scientists say. It also causes the production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that are contributing to climate change. Among their findings: The farmland needed to produce all that extra, unneeded food was about 400 times the size of the entire United States, according to the new calculations. Approximately 345,000 cubic kilometers—28 Lake Superiors—was needed to produce all the extra food we consume.

As much as 40% of food goes uneaten in the U.S. Americans throw away $165 billion in wasted food every year, according to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, a nonprofit environmental action group.

Some 160 billion pounds of discarded food also clogs up landfills. Worldwide, one-third of the world’s food — some 1.3 billion tons — is also lost or wasted every year, according to the United Nations Environment Program. “Food waste is responsible for over 7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key challenge in tackling climate change,” the UN says.

The evidence about environmental damage and climate change is piling up to the point where it’s increasingly hard even for skeptics to ignore. The last five years have been the hottest ever recorded. July was the hottest month ever recorded. Sea levels are rising. Some sources say the soil erosion in America’s farmland is reaching dangerous levels. The WHO estimates that more than 1.9 billion adults and 41 million children under the age of five are overweight or obese.

Here’s How We Solve the Planet’s Food Waste Problem

Published August 21, 2019 by Grist. Written by Maddie Stone.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire report highlighting the enormous environmental impact of agriculture. But the report also pointed to a clear way for us to feed more mouths without causing more planetary destruction: We can stop wasting food.

Globally, we humans squander up to a third of the food we produce, according to the U.N. We leave it to rot in fields and refrigerators. We cull it because it’s too ugly to sell. We stack it in overflowing supermarket displays where some is inevitably squashed. All of this uneaten food required energy to produce; if food waste were its own country, it would have the third highest carbon footprint on Earth—right behind China and the U.S. and just ahead of India. That’s a harsh reality in a world where 821 million people don’t have enough to eat.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can streamline the supply chain to reduce spoiled and lost food, and we can change the way we eat at home. Already, simple technologies like better storage bags, are making a big difference, and wonkier solutions like national policies that standardize food labels are in the works.

Better packaging, transport, and storage

Food must move quickly on its journey from farm to table before it spoils. To prolong its viability, wealthy countries rely on refrigeration and the so-called “cold chain” of climate-controlled trucks and distribution centers. That’s not an option in much of the developing world — so food may rot before it reaches a market.

Expanding access to refrigeration is one obvious solution, although as University of Michigan sustainability researcher Shelie Miller points out, it comes with trade-offs because the cold chain sucks up so much energy. Emerging options include innovations like the SolarChill Project’s solar powered fridges, which are currently used to store vaccines in medical centers in Kenya and Colombia.

Other inventions do away with conventional refrigeration entirely. Eric Verploegen, a research engineer at the MIT D-Lab, an interdisciplinary program focused on sustainable development, has helped develop evaporative coolers for small-scale farmers and vendors in places like Mali and Kenya. These coolers can be as simple as two nested clay pots with some wet sand in between. As the water evaporates, it pulls heat out of the interior of the container, chilling the contents by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That can extend the shelf life of produce by several days, giving farmers more time to get their food to market.

While grains last a lot longer, they’re vulnerable to pests, which is why a team at Purdue University reinvented the humble storage bag. So-called PICS (Purdue Improved Crops Storage) bags are triple-sealed and hermetic, meaning any bugs that sneak in alongside the maize or millet will run out of oxygen long before they can cause an infestation.

Since the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation began funding this effort in 2007, the bags have spread to nearly three dozen countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. PICS team manager Dieudonné Baributsa said that as of February, 19.3 million PICS bags had sold worldwide, most for between $2 and $3 apiece. A farmer that uses a 100-kilo bag to store cowpeas will typically reap an additional $27 in sales, he noted.

“This is a technology that’s really having an impact,” Baributsa said.

None of these technologies is a panacea—each one tackles a small piece of the problem. But enough of them added together might bring those enormous food loss numbers down.

To eat or not to eat

In wealthier countries, the biggest food-waste culprit is easier to pinpoint: It’s us.

In the U.S., individuals throw away some 27 million tons of food a year, amounting to 43 percent of all food waste nationwide. In the UK, household waste accounts for 70 percent of losses beyond the farm.

Trashing food happens for many reasons: We buy too much. We don’t use it in time. We forget to eat the leftovers. To Liz Goodwin, director of Food Loss and Waste at the World Resources Institute, it all boils down to the fact that food is now a throwaway item. “We know we can get more, so it doesn’t really matter,” she said.

Raising awareness that food waste does matter can work. The UK’s “Love Food Hate Waste” initiative, which Goodwin described as “the single best-evaluated campaign there is,” led to a 20 percent reduction in household food waste between 2007 and 2012, she said.

Somewhat surprisingly, meal kits can also help reduce waste. A recent study by Miller’s team in Michigan showed that meals prepared from Blue Apron recipes resulted in one-third less carbon emissions on average than the same meals prepared from grocery store ingredients. The difference was largely due to the fact that the kit portioned ingredients very carefully, resulting in less wasted food — which more than compensated for the climate impact of all the extra packaging.

“We have this great understanding of plastic and packaging waste as major environmental impacts, but for whatever reason we don’t have that same idea associated with food,” Miller said.

Standardizing date labels could also make a difference. They became common in the 1970s as a marker of food quality, but many of us today wrongly assume that once the “sell by” date has passed, the food’s spoiled. In fact, these dates are often a manufacturer’s arbitrary estimate of when the food will taste most fresh — and different states have different standards.

The result is we throw out loads of food that’s still fine to eat, according to Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Law School Food and Policy Clinic.

On August 1, congressional legislators introduced a bipartisan, food industry-backed bill to create two standard labels. Under the proposed scheme, companies would have the option of labeling food with a “best if used by” date to indicate peak freshness, and a “use by” date if the food must be thrown out at a certain point for safety reasons, explained JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

If the bill becomes law, rollout of the nationwide standards would be accompanied by a mass educational campaign so that Americans can stop needlessly tossing so much food in the trash. “People are confused about what these terms mean,” Berkenkamp said. “Streamlining them has the potential to help consumers make much better choices.”

There’s a lot we can do to reduce food waste, even if it’s unlikely we’ll ever eliminate it entirely. But we can absolutely stop sending food waste to landfills, where it emits the potent greenhouse gas methane as it decomposes.

Composting is one alternative. Americans sent 2.1 million tons of food waste to composters in 2015. But with another 30 million tons entering landfills that same year, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Laws that keep food out of landfills can help, said Calla Rose Ostrander, an environmental advisor who pushed for the passage of SB-1383, a California bill that will divert most organic waste away from landfills by 2025. Massachusetts regulations enacted in 2014 stipulate businesses can’t send more than a ton of organic waste to landfills a week.

Food waste is also used to make fuel via the microbially-driven process of anaerobic digestion. The UK company Biogen, for instance, has 13 anaerobic digestion plants that produce some 25 megawatts of electricity for the national grid, enough to power a small town. And new waste-to-energy technologies are in the works. Last week, the startup Electro-Active Technologies announced patents for a bioreactor that uses microbes to convert food waste to renewable hydrogen gas.

While it’s still early days, cofounder and University of Tennessee chemical engineer Abhijeet Borole said the company is aiming to begin testing a pilot reactor by the end of 2020 that could convert food waste from a commercial partner to fuel. It may be awhile before we’re refueling our hydrogen cars with power made from putrescent potatoes though. “Nothing like this exists out there,” Borole said. “There are definitely challenges in getting to a larger scale.”

And the truth is when it comes to food waste, technology only goes so far. Farmers may simply choose not to harvest if they won’t get a good price, according to Rob Vos of the International Food Policy Research Institute. That’s why Vos emphasizes “development of the food value chain at large” — making sure that every step along the farm-to-table supply chain is profitable, from harvesting it in fields to shipping it to markets for sale. In practice, this will look like a lot of technological interventions and policies bundled together.

Ultimately, we need to treat food like the valuable good that it is. Because if one thing’s clear from the new U.N. report, it’s that when we waste food, the planet picks up the tab.

FLPC Welcomes New Team Member Emma Scott

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) welcomes Emma Scott to the team as a Clinical Instructor!

Emma joined the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic in August 2019 as a Clinical Instructor. Her work currently focuses on FPLC’s Sustainable and Equitable Food Production Initiative and the Clinic’s ongoing projects in the Mississippi Delta.

Prior to joining FLPC, Emma served as a Justice Catalyst Fellow at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in the Labor and Civil Rights Litigation Unit. At CRLAF, Emma’s practice focused on group representation of immigrant workers in employment and labor litigation, with an emphasis on farmworkers and the H-2A visa program.  Emma got to know FLPC as an HLS student through the Food Law and Policy Seminar, attending FLPC sponsored conferences, and serving as a Research Assistant to Prof. Emily Broad Leib.  Emma received her B.S. in Social Sciences, with a concentration in Cross-Cultural Studies and International Development, from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 2010. She graduated from Harvard Law School, cum laude, in 2016. She then served as a law clerk to the Hon. John A. Mendez of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California from September 2016 to August 2018, assuming the position and responsibilities of Senior Law Clerk in her second year.  She is a licensed member of the California Bar.

Home Cooking for Profit? Sure, Just Not in New Jersey

Originally published by The New York Times on August 13, 2019. Written by 

With just a little white chocolate and some sprinkles, Heather Russinko can make a wedding gown in under seven minutes. Give her five minutes more, and she can dress a groom, too. Three buttons, a bow tie, and a tuxedo swell over a round white chest. Ms. Russinko uses dips and drips instead of pins and pleats to outfit the couple, who are cake pops, lollipop-size pastries made of batter and frosting. She has made beach-themed pops for a Sweet Sixteen party and lopsided, whimsical monsters with googly eyes for Halloween.

“If I could sell these at a Starbucks price, at $2.75 a piece? That’s his college,” said Ms. Russinko, 40, speaking of her 16-year-old son. “I want to be able to say, ‘O.K., Jared, you can go to college. Go ahead. You need money for books? Yeah, I have that right here for you.’”

But she lives in New Jersey, the only state where it remains illegal to sell homemade foods for profit, so she can only give away her creations or donate them to bake sales. If she tried to sell them, she could be fined up to $1,000. Every other state has dropped such restrictions. “There’s this rogue law standing in my way and preventing me from earning an income,” said Ms. Russinko, one of three named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Health. “It’s not like I am out there trying to sell drugs or do
anything illegal. It’s a cookie. Or in my case, a cake pop.”

New Jersey’s sanitary code, like most states’, is derived from federal food laws based on a 1906 act; these codes have long excluded home kitchens from the definition of retail food establishments. But one by one, states have eased those limits or enacted so-called cottage food laws, which allow the sale of homemade foods like breads, granola, dried herbs and jams. Many of these laws set a cap on annual gross sales and require that home kitchens pass safety inspections.

In just the last decade, 19 states and the District of Columbia have moved to allow sales of homemade foods, said Emily Broad Leib, the director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and a lead author of an August 2018 report that documented a “dramatic increase in small-scale food production” nationwide.

Local food sales, which include those from cottage food operations and farmers’ markets, ​totaled ​ $5 billion in 2008, according to a 2016 article by Tom Vilsack​, then the secretary of agriculture. The report projected they would reach $20 billion this year​.​ “When the recession hit, people were looking for side jobs, ways to make extra money,” said David Crabill, who runs Forrager, a blog about cottage food that tracks state laws. “It’s a very natural thing to share food within your own community and to sell it.”

For almost a decade, the New Jersey Home Bakers Association, which has more than 350 members including Ms. Russinko, has been lobbying elected officials for the right to sell homemade goods. A bill that would allow such sales has passed in the State Assembly three times, most recently by a unanimous vote in 2016. But the legislation has stalled in the State Senate. Senator Joseph F. Vitale, the chairman of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, has never put it up for a vote or a hearing in committee, so the entire Senate cannot vote on it.

“Our office is consumed with issues that are, I’m sorry to say, more important,” Mr. Vitale, a Democrat from Woodbridge, said in a phone interview. “I support the fact that they want to pursue this type of entrepreneurship, but it has to be done in a manner that is safe.”

In 2017, the association bypassed the legislature and sued the state health department, which is responsible for enforcing the ban, saying the ban violates the equal protection clause in the New Jersey Constitution. The home bakers enlisted an influential ally: the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian public interest law firm based in Arlington, Va. In 2013, the institute started the National Food Freedom Initiative to challenge restrictions on laws related to food. The New Jersey bakers reached out to the institute in 2016 after reading about its work nationwide, including lawsuits in Wisconsin and Minnesota that significantly expanded cottage food laws there. A lawyer from the institute, Erica Smith, is lead attorney on the New Jersey suit.

“States aren’t doing this on their own,” Ms. Broad Leib said. “They’re doing it because they’re pressured to pass these things.”

Across the country, there are continuing struggles to expand cottage food laws. California legalized cottage food sales in 2013 and cleared the way for selling homemade meals in 2018, but municipalities are still working out the details. In Texas, which passed its first such law in 2011, new legislation that takes effect in September will significantly loosen cottage food restrictions. A few states, like Wyoming and North Dakota, have “food freedom” acts, which exempt home bakers from any licensing, permitting or inspection requirements, as long as their dishes don’t contain meat. After years of advocacy, bakers in Connecticut got a cottage food law passed in late 2018, and many bakers are just now in their first months of production. Sales are limited to $25,000 a year, less than most states allow.

Chonte Fields, a young mother who lives in Ashford, Conn., started selling her baked goods a few months ago. She is the 43rd home baker to be approved — she can tell, because it’s the number on her license — and she mostly makes cupcakes, taking home a few hundred dollars a month. She sells at local campgrounds and events where several bakers gather. “The plan is to try to take the kids to Disney World next year,” she said in a phone interview, whispering so her children, ages 3 and 9, couldn’t hear. “All of the cupcake money goes toward that.” In New Jersey, the Department of Health asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss the bakers’ lawsuit, arguing that the ban on sales was meant to ensure that consumers have “food that is safe and unadulterated.” The motion was denied. The state attorney general’s office said it would not comment on pending litigation.

“When it comes to cottage foods, you want products that have a very low risk of illness,” said Steven Mandernach, the executive director of the Association of Food and Drug Officials, nonprofit organization based in York, Pa., that works to streamline regulations. “Baked goods are a good example.” The home cooks insist their products are safe. If there were a health risk, they ask, why would they be allowed to donate food to bake sales? They say lawmakers and regulators are simply trying to protect commercial bakeries.

Mr. Vitale, the Senate committee chairman, denied that. “Not in any way am I trying to protect mom-and-pop bakeries, or brick-and-mortar bakeries,” he said. Still, Mr. Vitale said established bakeries have a greater investment at stake, and could lose business. “If there are going to be, let’s say, 20 home bakers that are created through this legislation and they’re selling their product to the public, it’s likely that if they didn’t exist, those public persons would have gone to a bakery,” he said.

Mr. Vitale, who met with association members last year, said he was open to discussing the legislation and was looking at other states for models of successful cottage food laws, hoping to answer his questions about inspection processes and taxation before letting the Senate vote. The New Jersey bill, he said, “states that they can earn up to $50,000. That’s real money. My question to them would be: Are you going to pay income tax on that?”

Martha Rabello, another named plaintiff in the New Jersey suit, said she tried to do business the legal way: She rented a commercial kitchen, but the cost proved prohibitive, and she closed down shop after just a few months. If you can start from home, you have a better chance of this business surviving,” she said. “We’re not asking for the Wild West. We’re asking for cookies. This is just a way for people to supplement their income.”


Representatives Pingree and Newhouse Introduce Legislation to Standardize Food Date Labels

Last week, Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 (H.R. 3981), federal legislation to standardize date labels on food products. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) enthusiastically supports this legislation, which will reduce consumer confusion and food waste.

40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste each year, and confusion over date labels is a significant contributor to food waste. Currently, date labels are not regulated at the federal level. In the absence of federal legislation, manufacturers use a dizzying variety of date labeling phrases, most of which are meant to communicate when food will be at its peak quantity. However, many consumers misinterpret these date labels to be indicators of food safety, leading them to throw out food prematurely. Moreover, states have developed their own date labeling requirements, resulting in a patchwork system of inconsistent state laws.

FLPC has championed federal legislation to standardize date labels and alleviate this confusion since 2013 when we released our report, The Dating Game, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to ReFED, standardizing date labels is the most cost effective solution to food waste.

Legislation to standardize date labels was first introduced in 2016, when Representative Pingree and Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016. Date label standardization was also proposed in the Food Recovery Act of 2017. The Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 builds on these previous legislative efforts with changes that make the standards more flexible for food labelers.

Under the new legislation, manufacturers or retailers may choose whether or not to use date labels on food products. However, if they choose to use a date label, they must use one of two prescribed phrases. This gives industry the freedom to decide whether or not to use date labels on their products but still ensures that labeling language is consistent on food products across the country. If a labeler wishes to indicate a food’s peak quality, the labeler must use the phrase “Best if Used By.” If a labeler wishes to communicate when a food should be discarded for safety, the labeler must use the phrase “Use By.” These phrases are consistent with voluntary date labeling initiatives developed in recent years (discussed below), and a national survey shows that most consumers understand these phrases to convey quality and safety.

This legislation will address the current patchwork system of state-level date labeling laws by pre-empting any state labeling regulations that require alternative date labeling language. The legislation also bars any state-level prohibitions on the donation of past date food based on a quality date. This will help ensure that wholesome food can be donated to food rescue organizations. Finally, the legislation requires the creation of a national consumer education campaign to inform consumers about the meaning of the new standard labeling language.

In recent years, federal agencies and industry leaders have taken important steps towards standard date labeling language. On May 23rd of this year, the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas, penned an open letter to the food industry encouraging the adoption of the standard term “Best if Used by” for quality dates on food products. This FDA recommendation mirrors USDA’s 2016 revised guidance, which similarly encourages the use of the phrase “Best if Used by” to indicate quality. Two years ago, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) launched the Product Code Dating Initiative, a voluntary call to the industry to adopt standardized quality and discard date phrases. Federal legislation will bolster the success of these existing initiatives and allow for complete uniformity nationwide.

With so much recent momentum in support of standardized date labels, the time is now to pass legislation to establish a uniform national system. FLPC is pleased to support this bill, which will alleviate confusion over date labels and ensure that more safe, wholesome food gets eaten.

To follow the status of the legislation, click here. For Representative Pingree’s press release, see here.