The $400 Billion Food Problem Not Enough Of Us Are Talking About

This article was originally written by Meghan Rabbit and published by Delish on April 22, 2021.


How we got to that sad statistic, plus the small steps you can take that’ll actually make a difference.

Professor Emily Broad Leib reads the statistics about the 1 billion people going hungry every year—and 1.3 billion tons of food going unused—and shakes her head.

It’s not that the numbers are especially surprising. As the faculty director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, Broad Leib is well versed in the eye-popping facts:

In the U.S. alone, 35 percent of the 229 million tons of food available go unsold or uneaten—that’s $408 billion worth of food, according to ReFED, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste. Uneaten food is also responsible for 18 percent of all cropland use, 14 percent of all fresh water use, 24 percent of landfill inputs, and 4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas.

“The scale of this problem is huge—and it’s actually a really stupid problem,” says Broad Leib. “The fact that there are so many people in this country going without food and at the same time, we are wasting so much? It needs to change.”

So how’d we get here?

Before you panic, you should know food waste has always been an issue—but it wasn’t always the massive problem it is today. According to the most recent data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 12.2 million tons of food waste was generated in 1960 compared to 63 million tons wasted in 2018. Between 2010 and 2017, there was an eight percent increase in food waste per capita.

There are several reasons for this. “For starters, our food system has gotten more industrialized over time, which means many more layers in the production chain for food to be wasted,” says Daniel Kurzrock, co-founder of upcycled food company ReGrained and an officer on the board of the Upcycled Food Association, a nonprofit focused on reducing food waste by growing the upcycled food economy. For example, juicing fruit and canning vegetables used to use the “cosmetic seconds”—the wonky-looking produce consumers didn’t want to buy. “These days, not only is food grown on a much larger scale,” says Kurzrock, “but we also have a more fragmented food system—for example, we grow apples for the sole purpose of juicing—which leads to a huge number of farmers with surplus.”

Adding to that surplus that either gets left to rot in farm fields or tilled back into the land is the demand for picture-perfect produce—think spherically round apples with no bruises and cylindrical carrots without cracks or gnarly-looking appendages coming out of them. Our high standards for freshness can also lead food businesses to toss safe, edible food simply based on a perception that it is past its prime. In fact, according to ReFED, date label concerns account for half of all food waste at the retail stage.

Then, there’s the huge amount of food that gets wasted when we bring it home. In fact, households are responsible for the largest portion of all food waste—an estimated 76 billion pounds of food per year—and Broad Leib says one of the reasons for this is how little we actually spend on food each year compared to the rest of the world. (Americans spend just 6.4 percent of their household income on food, compared to the UK’s 8.2 percent, Austria’s 9.9 percent, Nigeria’s 56.4 percent and Pakistan’s 40.9 percent.) “If a huge part of your household income went to your food, you might be more careful with it. Because it’s such a small percentage of most people’s household income, it’s easy to not value it.” Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, adds that this shift in food steadily becoming a lower proportion of our household budget has contributed to food waste becoming such a massive problem: “An ever-expanding abundance of food steadily eroded American food thrift,” says Bloom. “Given that cheap bounty, we could and still can afford to be more picky with our food’s appearance. The rise of convenience, diminished kitchen knowledge, and our ever-increasing busy lives haven’t helped either.”

New data from ReFED is encouraging, revealing that the amount of food waste has leveled off after increasing since 2016. Kurzrock says this is one of the silver linings of COVID-19. Sheltering in place and not wanting to go to the grocery store too often forced many of us to start meal planning in a way we hadn’t in years—or possibly ever—and it’s led to less waste: According to one study by The Food Industry Association and the Hartman Group, 36 percent of consumers are more successful in avoiding food waste since home-sheltering and 51 percent reporting that they expect to waste less food going forward.

Now what?

“The climate crisis is this big, hairy problem that feels like an infinite doom scroll,” Kurzrock says, “but food waste is a little easier to understand and feel empowered by.” While Broad Leib and others work on food policy changes aimed at fixing our larger food waste issue, there are things you can do to make a dent at home. After all, each of us makes choices about food every day.

Here are some of the choices you should be making:

Plan your meals for the week (including leftovers!). One of the most impactful things you can do is shift your mindset from “What do I want for dinner?” to “What do I have for dinner?” says Kurzrock. Think about exactly what you’ll make for the week, how many people you need to feed, and what kind of leftovers you’d like to either have that week or freeze for later.

Cook one no-waste meal a week. From Kurzrock: “I always tell people to develop a few go-to no-waste meals, like stir fries and omelets, where it’s easy to incorporate any kind of produce that might be on its way out.”

Consider the hit your monthly budget takes if you waste food. Kurzrock likes to tell his friends to think about food waste this way: “Imagine leaving the grocery store with five bags and dropping two in the parking lot,” he says. “That’s how much food waste typically happens at home, even if you don’t think you waste a lot of food.” In addition to the fact that the food you waste could help the growing number of Americans struggling to put food on the table, consider how much money you’re essentially spending for no reason: One study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found that the average U.S. household wastes nearly 32 percent of its food, which results in a total annual cost of about $1,800 per household. Per Carr: “You’re wasting money when you waste food. It’s as simple as that.”

Understand sell-by date labels (and learn how to revive food that’s on its way out). Food expiration dates actually have little to do with food safety, says Broad Leib, and they’re not federally regulated. Worse, the various categories of date labels—everything from “use by” and “sell by” to “best before”—makes it tough for consumers to decipher what they mean. The result? Most of us ditch foods that are perfectly OK to eat if it’s past the date we see on that label.

Support your local farmers and companies focused on fixing our food-waste issue. When you’re at the farmer’s market, strike up a conversation with the people selling the produce and ask questions about the growing season or health of the soil. “If you get to know your farmer, there’s a good chance you’ll care more about that food,” says Carr. Also, you can support companies focusing on this issue, whether it’s a food company using upcycled ingredients (like ReGrain) or selling “ugly” produce (like Imperfect Foods and Misfit Market). Whole Foods just listed up-cycled foods as one of their top trends for 2021. There’s also a huge movement around ‘ugly’ produce right now, “which leaves me wondering if it’s shoppers who want perfect produce or the distribution centers for the supermarkets that are driving this aspect of food waste,” says Kurzrock. “If you talk to the founders of Imperfect Foods, one of the first companies to offer cosmetic seconds to consumers, they’ll actually tell you that they get customer complaints that their food isn’t ugly enough.”

Compost your food scraps and waste. This is a great way to turn what you consider waste into something farmers consider a resource, says Rick Carr, farm director at The Rodale Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to regenerative agriculture. “Composting is an incredible waste management tool for organics,” he says. “Those tomato seeds you’re not going to eat, the core of an apple, the peels from carrots or cucumbers—if you compost, all of it can go back into the soil as a valuable amendment.” Not having a garden isn’t an excuse—here’s how to get started.

Grow something yourself. When you know what goes into the process of growing your own food, it leads to a level of appreciation that may make you very hesitant to waste any part of it, says Carr. “I grew up gardening with my mother, and she always taught me to plant things in three: one for the earth, one for the rabbits, and the other for me. Thinking about it this way is a lesson in appreciating what we put in the ground and what we take out.” If you have kids, this lesson is one that’s great for them to learn as well, adds Carr. “There’s no one right way to solve this problem of food waste,” he says. “But when you try to waste less food and teach your kids to do the same, they’ll teach their kids. And that’s how we’ll make even a little progress.”

From Cottage Foods to Home Cooks: Recent Legislative Trends for Kitchen Micropreneurs

By: Brianna Johnson-King and Vrushab Gowda, FLPC students


Selling homemade food – from baked goods to complete meals – provides an opportunity for millions of people in America to support their families and share their culture with others. Currently, forty-nine states and Washington, DC have in place cottage food laws, allowing for the sale of low-risk foods like bread, tortillas, popcorn, or coffee beans. Their requirements vary, with some requiring operators to obtain a permit or limit their annual sales to a certain dollar amount. Of these forty-nine states, two, California and Utah, take one step further and permit individuals to sell full meals through what they call “microenterprise home kitchens”(Utah’s law to allow such operations was signed by its governor just this year). Two others, Wyoming and North Dakota, offer home cooks even broader flexibility via “food freedom” laws.

Cottage food operations, microenterprise home kitchens, and food freedom laws support culturally distinct foods and create economic opportunities for residents. Many individuals possess the skills and knowledge to make foods that may not be available in common grocery stores, but are nonetheless valued by their community. These laws not only support individuals in sharing their culinary traditions, but also provide them with income streams. This has become especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, resulting in a record high unemployment of 14.7 percent in April 2020. Restaurant workers were among those hardest hit by unemployment during the pandemic, but also among those most likely to have skills applicable to making and selling home foods. These laws would allow individuals to make healthful foods from their own kitchens and generate means of supporting their families.

State legislators across the United States are increasingly recognizing the need to expand available permits for sales of home-produced foods. In the current legislative cycle (as of April 2021), forty-four bills have been introduced in twenty-nine states to either expand on existing state cottage food laws or to allow microenterprise home kitchens. More than half of these bills broaden the list of cottage foods that can be sold and over a third allow individuals to sell foods requiring temperature control for safety, sometimes called potentially hazardous foods, such as meat, dairy, and eggs.

In addition to trends toward increasing the types of foods that can be produced in a home kitchen, two other patterns are prevalent: states expanding the method of permitted sales and raising the annual sales caps. Over a third of introduced bills would allow cottage food operators to sell their foods online, over the phone, or through the mail. These provide sellers with significant flexibility and increase the volume of potential customers, as most states previously only allowed sales of cottage foods via in-person transactions at farmers’ markets, charitable functions, or bake sales, as well as deliveries by the producer to the consumer. A recent Massachusetts bill would permit all of the above, and additionally exempt cottage food operations from further restrictions by the state department of health, municipalities, and local zoning boards. A New York proposal would moreover permit sales through third-party delivery services, such as UberEats or Postmates. States have also increased or removed the gross annual sales caps for cottage foods altogether. For example, a bill in New Hampshire would remove the state’s $20,000 ceiling, while other states, like Florida, would increase the gross annual sales limit to as much as $250,000.

As noted above, beyond cottage foods, some states seek to establish Food Freedom laws, while others allow home cooks to sell full meals prepared in home kitchens, via microenterprise home kitchens. These allow residents to sell almost any homemade food without inspection, licensing or permitting restrictions. Five states have introduced Food Freedom laws, including Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. These states would join others who have enacted such laws earlier, including Wyoming and North Dakota. Additionally, four states have introduced microenterprise home kitchen bills, including Washington, Utah, New York, and California. Prior to 2021, California was the only state to have passed a microenterprise home kitchen bill. This year it has introduced legislation amending labeling and advertising regulations for its microenterprise home kitchens, and Utah became the second state to pass a microenterprise home kitchen bill. These states lead the country in empowering public choice while supporting local economies.

The forty-four bills introduced this cycle highlight a shift in legislators’ views of homemade foods. Selling low risk products or even higher risk products in the small volumes produced in a home kitchen do not pose significant safety concerns, but allow legislators to support their constituents at a time when economic opportunity is crucial. In particular, these bills can help immigrants, women, people of color, and others who have historically faced barriers to launching businesses or accessing equitable economic opportunity. These groups have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 and would stand to gain from expanded cottage food and microenterprise home kitchen laws. Their benefits will continue to be felt for years, far beyond the current pandemic. Young entrepreneurs seeking to open a small business, parents spending time at home with children, or elderly individuals desiring to stay at home can all gain from these laws to support themselves and their families, all while expanding local food options for their community.

Michigan Improves Access to Hepatitis C Treatment for Medicaid and Healthy Michigan Plan Patients

The Wolverine state removed prior authorization requirements for a preferred hepatitis C medication, increasing access to hepatitis C treatment for more Michiganders.

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI) and the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) today applauded Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for removing prior authorizations for a preferred hepatitis C medication. Michigan joins just six other states that do not require prior authorization for hepatitis C treatment, including California, Indiana, Louisiana, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin. Up to 200,000 Michiganders are estimated to be living with hepatitis C, and lifting these restrictions will help increase access to the hepatitis C cure for thousands. 

“Michigan has been a leader in removing barriers to hepatitis C treatment for several years, and this next step of removing prior authorizations for preferred treatment will go a long way toward further improving access to hepatitis C care for Michiganders,” said Phil Waters, Staff Attorney at CHLPI. “We encourage all payors and providers to immediately implement policies that eliminate prior authorization and other forms of unduely burdernsome utilization management to help improve individual and public health outcomes, especially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

In an effort to eliminate hepatitis C as a health threat to Michiganders, the state recently launched the new “We Treat Hep C” initiative and a state plan on eliminating hepatitis C. The initiative will help raise awareness among at-risk populations for hepatitis C, encourage testing and screening for hepatitis C, and reduce barriers to curative hepatitis C treatment. 

“It is encouraging to see states like Michigan develop hepatitis C elimination plans, and as a part of that, improve hepatitis C testing and treatment options. Removing prior authorizations for preferred treatment eliminates one uneccessary hurdle for getting patients the care they need,” said Adrienne Simmons, Director of Programs at NVHR. “With treatments now available that cure hepatitis C, it is unacceptable that patients continue to live with or die from hepatitis C and we look forward to seeing the progress Michigan makes to eliminate the virus.”

The removal of prior authorization for preferred treatment and previous barriers to hepatitis C treatment has improved Michigan’s score on the Hepatitis C: State of Medicaid Access to an A+, joining only a few other states with the top score. This designation is a step forward in the fight to improving patient access to hepatitis C treatment and towards eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat. 

For more information about hepatitis C treatment access barriers, please visit www.stateofhepc.org.

Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic Calls on USDA to Reform Office Focused on Civil Rights

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) history of discrimination and inefficacy in addressing civil rights complaints is well-documented, yet little has been done to significantly reform agency operations that enable harmful practices to persist. With the Biden Administration’s renewed attention toward equity, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic published an Issue Brief calling for a change.

Supporting Civil Rights at USDA: Opportunities to Reform the USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR) documents the agency’s past struggles with establishing an effective civil rights accountability system and offers specific recommendations on ways OASCR–the office responsible for leading and overseeing USDA’s civil rights programs–could manage the complaint process moving forward. The Issue Brief offers feasible actions USDA could take without any additional action by Congress, including ensuring division between OASCR and USDA’s Office of General Counsel, establishing a civil rights ombudsperson and new oversight mechanisms, and devoting resources to improve the investigation and effective processing of civil rights complaints. It also provides an overview of OASCR’s civil rights complaint process and summarizes several decades of the office’s shortcomings.

“OASCR’s capacity to redress instances of discrimination and civil rights complaints has proven to be ineffective time and time again,” said Emily Broad Leib, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Faculty Director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic. “This lack of oversight and accountability has real, devastating consequences that contribute toward the growing disparities in our agricultural and food systems, disparities that have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown producers, as well as on racial and gender equity in the treatment of USDA’s own employees. We hope that USDA seizes the current opportunity to reform OASCR and better support populations that have been historically and routinely marginalized.”

Despite studies, reports, and recommendations made by federal oversight bodies and outside organizations, OASCR has continuously fallen short in protecting USDA employees and constituents against gender, racial, and ethnic discrimination. The shortcomings are accompanied by a history of lawsuits that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars over the years, and lending and programmatic discrimination that have resulted in millions of acres of Black land loss. 

“There is a clear link between USDA’s history of discrimination and the current state of Black farmers and land ownership in the U.S.,” said Nathan Rosenberg, a Visiting Scholar with the Food Law and Policy Clinic. “USDA has systematically denied loans and foreclosed on Black farmers and landowners, covered up the data that illustrates disparities, and failed to respond when complaints are raised.”

“This Issue Brief is a breath of fresh air and confirms the problems that Black farmers and USDA employees have spoken up about for decades,” said Lawrence Lucas, President Emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees and Representative for the Justice for Black Farmers Group. “The Brief sets a benchmark for those who hope to say that civil rights at USDA is on the mend.”

“The change in Presidential Administration and renewed focus on equity in federal programs provides an opportunity for USDA to affirm its commitment to civil rights,” said Emma Scott, a Clinical Instructor at the Food Law and Policy Clinic. “With new leadership and advisors in place, a stated commitment to addressing equity at USDA, and a new influx of funding from the American Rescue Plan to support farmers of color, USDA is at a pivotal point for ensuring that OASCR provides effective civil rights enforcement and accountability for the agency.”

Making Hunger a Priority in America

To learn more about the event, please visit https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/events/making-hunger-priority-america


Hunger is on the rise in America. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity in the United States has doubled and now affects nearly 1 in 4 households. In response to this crisis, last year the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) created The Farmers to Families Food Box Program to alleviate food supply chain disruptions, support producers, and address food security challenges. To date, the program has spent approximately $15 billion, yet many smaller producers and minority farmers have been left out and the intended community beneficiaries are voicing concern about the food they are receiving. With more Federal funding included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, how has the program connected producers to communities and in what ways can it improve to meet the needs of the most vulnerable?

 

Biden to cancel Trump’s pandemic food aid after high costs, delivery problems

Originally written by and posted on Reuters on April 14, 2021.


CHICAGO (Reuters) -Yogurt was everywhere as volunteers opened boxes of fruit, frozen meat and dairy products that had shifted and spilled in transit to a food bank in Walworth County, Wisconsin.

They rushed to clean and transfer the packages of frozen meatballs, apples, milk and yogurt into cars for needy families to take home before they spoiled.

The food came from The Farmers to Families Food Box program that the Trump administration launched to feed out-of-work Americans with food rescued from farmers who would otherwise throw it away as the coronavirus pandemic upended food supply chains.

The government hired hundreds of private companies last spring to buy food no longer needed by restaurants, schools and cruise ships and haul it to overwhelmed food banks. But the program faced spilled and spoiled food, high costs and uneven distribution nationwide, according to interviews with food banks and distributors, and an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) invoice data obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Some of the companies charged the government more than double the program average while delivery to food banks was sometimes late. When the government contracted new vendors, some food banks relying on the program stopped receiving food at all. At the same time, the contractors delivered to churches or daycare centers that lacked adequate refrigeration.

“Food was abandoned to spoil,” said Susan Hughes, managing director of the Walworth County Food and Diaper Pantry.

The USDA spent $4 billion on the food box program in 2020 – six times its normal emergency food budget. After reviewing the program, President Joe Biden’s administration has decided not to continue it after May, USDA Communications Director Matt Herrick told Reuters.

Under newly appointed Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA is focused on different hunger initiatives, including expanding food stamp benefits and increasing food purchases through existing government food distribution programs, Herrick said.

“We’re not going to replace the program,” he said.

While food bank operators are thankful for the large volumes of fresh food from the food box program – and they stress that aid is still needed – many say far more families could have been fed by sticking to existing programs with proven quality and oversight.

Greg Ibach, USDA’s former undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs under the Trump administration, helped design the food box program in about a month. He said it worked as well as other USDA programs that took years to develop.

“We were in a hurry. People were hungry; there wasn’t food in grocery stores – if there was, they couldn’t afford it,” Ibach said. “We got a lot of food out the door and in peoples’ hands.”

HIGH COSTS, INCONSISTENT BOXES

When the food box program was rolled out in May 2020, the Trump administration touted it as a way of getting food to hungry Americans quickly. But by late June, the program fell short of delivery targets, Reuters reported. The government provided little guidance to food pantries and sometimes inexperienced distributors, who were often left to connect with one another on their own. [L1N2E91DJ]

After some states, including Montana and Nevada, received very little food early on, the Trump administration in June contracted with Gold Star Foods, a California-based school food distributor, to reach underserved areas, Gold Star’s CEO Sean Leer said in an interview.

Gold Star billed the government between $87 and $102 in October and November for food boxes containing fruit, meat and dairy products. That’s more than double the average of similar boxes from other companies at the time, according to USDA invoice data. Leer said the cost reflected the increase in food and freight prices during the pandemic supply chain disruption.

Leer said the company has at times delivered the food boxes at a loss. He noted that during the February cold snap in Texas, Gold Star sent food to the state from California because the weather caused supply problems in Texas.

Food delivered by Gold Star accounted for less than 2% of federal money spent on the food box program in 2020, though that will increase to just under 9% through April 2021, according to Reuters’ review of USDA invoice data.

Companies delivered food in varying quantities at first, making cost comparisons between different vendors difficult. But in September USDA standardized the food boxes at no more than 24 pounds after feedback from food banks.

From October through December, invoice data shows seven out of 105 companies, including Gold Star Foods, charged the government double the program’s median price per pound of food. Three of those companies were awarded contracts by the Trump administration for nearly $32 million in January 2021.

The Biden administration says some companies may have overcharged the USDA.

“There was an unequal cost associated with the distribution and filling of these boxes. Some people made a significant percentage from filling the boxes,” Vilsack said on a March 3 call with reporters.

The USDA specified food boxes delivered in 2021 to the continental U.S. cost between $27 and $48 per box. But cheaper boxes presented new challenges and put additional burdens on food banks, said Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. The lower-cost boxes contained lower quality food, and food companies at times refused to deliver them to smaller pantries, leaving local organizations scrambling to find extra money for delivery, she said.

RURAL AREAS LEFT OUT

Though some regional food banks have taken on the labor of delivering to multiple counties, most smaller food banks serve only one county. Deliveries to additional counties are at the expense of food banks, said Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank.

Reuters’ analysis of USDA data showed the program struggled in particular to reach rural counties. While cities and well-populated counties received millions of boxes of food, 896 counties – or nearly a third – received none, according to USDA data.

USDA’s Herrick said the Biden administration’s assessment of the program exposed problems in how the food aid was delivered.

“A lot of rural communities went unserved entirely,” he said.

Counties that did receive food worked with as many as a dozen food companies over seven months in 2020. Every six to twelve weeks, the USDA introduced a new phase of the program, changing food suppliers and forcing food banks to scramble to connect with new vendors or lose food supplies.

“USDA didn’t give (distributors) any guidance as to who to serve or keep serving,” said Harvard’s Broad Leib. “You can’t rely on something if one day it’s there, then the next day it’s not.”

Despite the program’s flaws, food banks say the nearly 133 million boxes of food delivered in 2020 averted an even greater crisis.

There are hungry Americans in nearly every city and county nationwide, said Kate Leone, senior VP of government relations at Feeding America, a national network of food banks. The organization estimates that about half of the children in some counties are food-insecure – worried about where their next meal might come from.

Food waste action plan calls for organics diversion infrastructure, compost market expansion

Originally written by Maria Rachal and published on Waste Dive on April 8, 2021.


Dive Brief:

  • An action plan to curb food loss and waste in the U.S. — pitched to Congress and the Biden administration this week by four organizations and supported by a host of cities, businesses and nonprofits — recommends funding infrastructure that keeps organic waste out of disposal sites by providing state- and city-level investments for measuring, rescuing and recycling it.
  • Led by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), ReFED and World Wildlife Fund, the plan also stipulates that federal facilities take steps to prevent organic waste and purchase finished compost products. The organizers urge lawmakers to spur growth of compost markets among private sector buyers as well. 
  • The plan calls for allocating $650 million annually through at least 2030 to states and cities for organic waste recycling infrastructure and other food waste reduction strategies. It also calls for $50 million for those cities and states to pursue public-private partnerships; $50 million in grants for research and innovation in the space; $3 million annually through 2030 for consumer food waste reduction research and behavior change campaigns; and $2 million to add personnel to the Federal Interagency Food Loss and Waste Collaboration.
 

Dive Insight:

The policy push highlights that up to 40% of food produced in the U.S. is lost or wasted, at an estimated cost of $408 billion per year. In turn, food is the single-largest input in landfills. The federal government in 2015 set a national goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030, but much policy ground remains.

The strategies in the five-point, eight-page action plan may not all represent novel approaches to food waste, but the time to package the policy priorities and get them in front of lawmakers is apt, organizers say.

That’s in part because of how the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated food insecurity in the U.S. Also, strategies to minimize food waste could align with the Biden administration’s stated priorities of investing in job-creating infrastructure improvements, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and seeking environmental justice.

It felt like “a perfect storm of opportunity,” said FLPC Director Emily Broad Leib, noting that addressing food waste garners bipartisan support, but the new administration means a moment of refresh.

Signatories to the policy outline include the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the US Composting Council and Vanguard Renewables.

Currently, city offices in Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Madison, Wisconsin, have also formally supported the plan.

While the plan points to job creation, climate and food donation benefits that have resulted from more comprehensive organics laws in California, Massachusetts and Vermont, it also lays out a number of other individual steps local governments can take. They include mandating food scrap recycling, enacting pay-as-you-throw policies and increasing disposal tip fees by adding taxes per unit of trash.

According to Helena Rudoff, a project lead in Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability, local data collection on food waste and loss is one of the most important parts of the process, but cities often lack the capacity to fund waste audits, even on a five- to 10-year basis. “That’s a huge barrier in writing this policy on a municipal scale … but it’s really difficult to keep track of this data year to year,” Rudoff said.

Having more data on the waste stream “would be extremely useful in terms of writing policies that actually address keeping food waste out of our landfill stream,” Rudoff said. “It allows us to make arguments about cost savings, but also resource recycling that we’re missing out on by not having, say, curbside composting. So having the data is really the starting point, and unfortunately it’s pretty inaccessible right now.”

The federal government can lead by example, said Yvette Cabrera, food waste director at NRDC. In the same way that President Joe Biden in January issued executive orders directing federal agencies to transition to clean energy, the plan’s authors believe the executive branch could potentially mandate that federal agencies measure, rescue and recycle food scraps and food waste.

Taking lessons from NRDC’s multi-city food waste minimization initiative, Cabrera said cities often want curbside organics recycling, for instance, but they end up not having the funds to sustain the program or the buy-in to continue to have enough material to make it profitable. “If we were able to incentivize the development of infrastructure that would enable larger-scale composting, I think that that would significantly help cities and states that are interested in this,” and enable regional collaboration.

On compost, authors recommend that the U.S. Department of Agriculture develop a marketing campaign to increase demand for finished compost and expand appropriations for municipal compost and food waste reduction pilot projects, among other suggestions.

There were no mentions of organics infrastructure in President Biden’s wide-reaching infrastructure plan unveiled last week. But the architects of the food waste action plan expect their proposals could end up in a variety of other policy vehicles, like any climate bills, or the next farm bill or child nutrition reauthorization, FLPC’s Broad Leib said.

Other sections of the plan call for policy supporting date labeling on food that distinguishes between peak use date and how long it’s fine to donate; expanding tax deduction benefits and strengthening liability protections tied to food donations; strengthening regional supply chains; passing the School Food Recovery Act; funding research and awareness campaigns to cut consumer food waste; and eliminating barriers to feeding food scraps to animals. 

Harvard Research Identifies Policy Recommendations to Support Food Donation Across Five Continents

Amid pandemic and rising rates of food insecurity, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and The Global FoodBanking Network address global food waste and hunger crisis.


In response to food waste, climate change, and a global hunger crisis that is further fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas makes recommendations to address critical gaps identified while mapping existing food donation laws and policies across the world. As more countries join the fight to address these global challenges, research from The Atlas project, which is produced by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and The Global FoodBanking Network, is now available for 14 countries: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Atlas project, supported by the Walmart Foundation, examines six major legal issues that impact food recovery: food safety for donations, date labeling, liability protection for food donations, tax incentives and barriers, government grants and funding, and food waste penalties or donation requirements. The Atlas project compares the legal frameworks impacting these issue areas across participating countries and provides policy recommendations for countries to overcome common barriers to food donation. The results have sparked dialogue among country leaders who are now drawing on best practices from other countries to inform their own food recovery policy development. 

“Hunger is a long-standing and completely solvable problem made worse by the pandemic. We produce more food globally than we need to feed all those suffering from hunger. There is no time better than now to implement policies and laws that eliminate senseless barriers to food donation and align incentives to encourage this beneficial practice,” said Emily Broad Leib, clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and director of FLPC. “We have heard from policymakers around the world who are using the Atlas analyses and recommendations to inform efforts in their home countries. We hope that our research empowers our food bank partners and their community allies and encourages more governments to systematically work toward closing the gap between surplus food and rates of food insecurity.”

“The Global FoodBanking Network is honored to be a partner in this important research identifying policy solutions to stem food loss and waste and promote food recovery for hunger relief,” said Lisa Moon, president and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network. “Food banks are a community-based solution to effectively redirect safe, wholesome surplus food to people in need. With more than 1 billion tons of food wasted each year, the Atlas offers stakeholders a policy roadmap for greater food security and sustainability.” 

One-third of food produced across the globe is lost or wasted, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, while global hunger persists at crisis levels exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Atlas project addresses this asymmetry while contributing important knowledge to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which includes zero hunger, good health and well-being, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.

“Walmart Foundation has a long-standing commitment to increasing access to healthier foods in communities around the world and we are pleased to support the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas, because of its potential to accelerate effective and sustainable solutions,” said Eileen Hyde, Director of Sustainable Food Systems and Food Access for Walmart.org. “This project provides not only groundbreaking research to address the complexity of public policy relating to food donations, but it also presents clear opportunities to improve how surplus food gets to communities that need it.”  

An interactive map, Legal Guides, Policy Recommendations, and Executive Summaries for 14 countries are available at atlas.foodbanking.org.

###

ABOUT THE HARVARD LAW SCHOOL FOOD LAW AND POLICY CLINIC
The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) serves partner organizations and communities by providing guidance on cutting-edge food system issues, while engaging law students in the practice of food law and policy. FLPC’s work focuses on increasing access to healthy foods, supporting sustainable production and regional food systems, promoting community-led food system change, and reducing waste of healthy, wholesome food. FLPC is committed to advancing a cross-sector, multi-disciplinary and inclusive approach to its work, building partnerships with academic institutions, government agencies, private sector actors, and civil society with expertise in public health, the environment, and the economy. For more information, visit http://www.chlpi.org/flpc/.

ABOUT THE GLOBAL FOODBANKING NETWORK
The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is an international nonprofit organization that nourishes the world’s hungry through uniting and advancing food banks in more than 40 countries. GFN focuses on combating hunger and preventing food waste by providing expertise, directing resources, sharing knowledge, and developing connections that increase efficiency, ensure food safety, and reach more people facing hunger. In 2019, GFN member food banks recovered over 900 million kilograms of food and grocery product and redirected it to feed 16.9 million people through a network of more than 56,000 social service and community-based organizations. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, member food banks have served more than 27 million people facing hunger. For more information, please visit www.foodbanking.org

ABOUT THE WALMART FOUNDATION
By using our strengths to help others, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation create opportunities for people to live better every day. Walmart has stores in 28 countries, employing more than 2.3 million associates and doing business with thousands of suppliers who, in turn, employ millions of people. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are helping people live better by accelerating upward job mobility for the retail workforce; addressing hunger and making healthier, more sustainably-grown food a reality; and building strong communities where we operate. We are not only working to tackle key social issues, but we are also collaborating with others to inspire solutions for long-lasting systemic change. To learn more about Walmart’s giving, visit giving.walmart.com.

 

 

Webinar Review: “The Impact of Date Labels on Food Waste, Food Recovery and Donation”

This post was written by Kerensa Gimre with support from Regina Paparo and Ata Nalbantoglu, FLPC clinical students.


Highlights

  • Date labels should utilize that dual date label scheme that clearly distinguishes between quality-based and safety-based labels
  • Consumer and business education about the meaning of date labels is critical to reducing food waste and encouraging food donation.
  • Recent momentum on climate change and sustainability offers an opportunity to engage policymakers on food waste, including date labels.

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), in partnership with The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) and Food Systems for the Future, virtually convened policymakers on March 25 to discuss the role of date labels in impacting food waste, food recovery, and donation. The meeting was part of a series of webinars organized under the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas project, a joint partnership between FLPC and GFN, with support from the Walmart Foundation. Featuring select government officials and food donation experts from around the world, the webinar explored concerns, best practices, and policy considerations to encourage the adoption of standardized date labeling to limit food waste and promote food recovery and donation.

Date labels affixed to food products are a significant driver of food waste and an obstacle to food donation. In many countries, date labeling regulations do not distinguish between quality-based and safety-based labels, contributing to confusion over whether food can be safely distributed or consumed after the date. It is not clear to food businesses, food donors, consumers, and regulators whether the date label accompanied by language such as “sell by,” “use by,” “expires on,” or “best before” relates to freshness or to food safety. The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas has found that questions and confusion regarding date labels are critical legal and policy issues impacting the donation and utilization of safe, surplus food.

Moderated by Ertharin Cousin, CEO and Founder of Food Systems for the Future, the webinar explored key issues regarding date labeling laws and policies. Panelists discussed the importance of regulation and the necessity of educating consumers on date labels to reduce food waste and encourage the donation of safe, surplus food. Tom Heilandt, Secretary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), elaborated the date labeling standards provided under the Codex’s General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods. Revised in 2018, the Codex Standards are international voluntary, non-binding standards—the Labeling Standard provides for a dual date labeling scheme in which all products would be labeled with only a quality-based date label or a safety-based date label. However, in many countries, existing labeling policies do not align with this voluntary, non-binding standard.

Panelists also described country date labeling policies, including challenges and best practices for countries considering a dual-date labeling scheme. Pernille Lundquist Madsen, the Deputy Head of the Chemistry and Food Quality Division at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and Denmark’s representative on the Codex Committee on Food Labelling, noted that Denmark, like the rest of the European Union, adopted a dual date labeling scheme, that allows food to bear only one of two date labels – a safety-based “use by” date label, or a quality-based “best before” date label. Estelle Herszenhorn, Special Advisor for Food at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in the United Kingdom (U.K.), noted that to reduce food waste and encourage redistribution of surplus food, WRAP has developed best practice guidelines for food date labeling and storage advice and guidance on labeling and redistribution of food – to promote redistribution of food near to or beyond the best before dates. She also highlighted that as part of the U.K. commitment to reducing food waste, they have enshrined the food waste hierarchy into law.  

Representative Chellie Pingree, U.S. Representative for Maine’s 1st Congressional District, discussed efforts to standardize date labels in the U.S. Currently, each state decides whether or how to regulate date label language, leading to patchwork regulations and consumer confusion. Moreover, both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have overlapping authority over food safety. Proposed legislation introduced by Rep. Pingree would adopt a dual date labeling scheme, requiring food to bear only a “Best If Used By” date for quality or a “Use By” date for foods that increase in safety risk past the date.

Global data show that consumers mistakenly interpret date labels as indicators of safety rather than quality. This lack of clarity and the ensuing confusion about date labels further stifles food donations. Panelists underscored the need for comprehensive education campaigns targeted at food donors, consumers, and health officials to promote awareness about the meaning of date labels. Estelle Herszenhorn discussed the U.K.’s efforts to promote consumer awareness, mainly through the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign, which provides education on date labels and other methods of minimizing food waste in the home. Pernille Lundquist Madsen discussed Denmark’s TooGoodToGo, an innovative application that raises consumer awareness about date labels and connects consumers with unsold, surplus food. Representative Pingree highlighted the USDA’s FoodKeeper App that helps consumers understand food and beverage storage to maximize freshness and reduce food waste.

Also, in many countries, it is unclear for food banks and food recovery organizations whether it is safe to distribute past-date food. Many food donors interpret date labels affixed to food products as indicators of safety and will, therefore, throw away food once the date has passed; intermediaries may also refuse to accept donated food after this date, thinking that the food product is unfit for human consumption. Estelle Herszenhorn stressed the importance of governments making it clear what food can be sold and donated after the quality-based date label to counter these concerns, as the UK has done. Pernille Lundquist Madsen noted that since 2014, Denmark allows the sale or donation of food after the “best before” date.

Finally, the policymakers highlighted that recent public interest in climate change and sustainability provides an opportunity to engage consumers in a conversation on food waste, date labels, and how they intersect with sustainability. These remarks demonstrated that meaningful date labeling laws have the potential to reduce food waste and support greater food donation. A strong date labeling policy clearly differentiates between quality-based and safety-based labels and provides explicit permission to donate food past a quality-based date. A detailed companion issue brief on best practices regarding date labeling standards to reduce food waste is forthcoming. FLPC and GFN welcome the continuation of a critical and open conversation. FLPC will resume the sessions in the Fall with a focus on food safety for donations and taxes. FLPC invites government officials and policymakers from international and multilateral organizations to reach out for further information at flpc@law.harvard.edu.

The American Rescue Plan: What it Does for Agriculture and Nutrition

Written by Minnie Che, FLPC research assistant


A $1.9 trillion stimulus package, called the American Rescue Plan, has been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden. Even before passage of this legislation, there were many changes afoot in the food and agricultural response to COVID-19. Upon taking office, President Biden increased the funding for Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) by 15% in order to combat child food insecurity during a time when many schools are still remote.[1] He also signed an order requesting the USDA to increase SNAP benefits, noting that the boost from the December stimulus bill was not enough.[2] Additionally, Biden signed an executive order that directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover the entire cost for states and local governments to partner with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare meals for soup kitchens and food pantries, rather than requiring the local government to provide matching funding, as was done earlier in pandemic.[3]

Despite swift executive actions, President Biden acknowledged that more must be done to mitigate the economic crisis and worked with Congress to enact a $1.9 trillion plan that includes $360 billion for state, local and tribal governments and $130 billion to schools and $40 billion to universities. The bill allocates $47 billion to FEMA to use towards vaccine distribution, $50 billion for testing and tracing, and an additional $26 billion for other distribution chains for the vaccine and medical supplies.[4] It also provides $10.4 billion for agriculture.[5]

Direct payment, unemployment benefits, and tax credits

One key aspect of the American Rescue Plan was the inclusion of new stimulus checks, which will deliver $1,400 directly to taxpayers who make $75,000 or less annually – or $112,500 for single parents and $150,000 for couples. Payments will phase out for salaries starting at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples filing jointly.

The bill will also extend weekly unemployment benefits of $300 through September 6, 2021, and the first $10,200 of unemployment payments from 2020 would be tax-free for individuals making less than $150,000.

$143 billion will be distributed to expand three tax credits: the child tax credit, the earned-income tax credit, and the child and dependent care tax credit.

Nutrition Assistance

With $1.15 billion allotted, the American Rescue Plan will continue the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act) through September of this year. This is a provision that the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) advocated for in its federal policy recommendations published May of 2020.[6] SNAP helps both low-income households mitigate food insecurity and fuels the economy. Approximately 40% of the additional benefits will go to households earning below 50% of the federal poverty line, with nearly ⅔ of those households having children.[7] $25 million will go to expand the ability for vendors to participate in SNAP online sales and improve its technological implementation.[8] This provision was adopted from the Expanding SNAP Options Act, on which the FLPC assisted and supported to implement online SNAP to all states and expand retailers authorized to accept SNAP online. [9]

$880 million is provided for investment in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC has been unable to reach all eligible populations of women and children because of its lack of modernization, such as online applications or video appointments. Funds invested in WIC will go towards expanding the program’s reach for all those who qualify. The USDA secretary has the authority to temporarily increase the value of cash vouchers, used for WIC participants to purchase supplemental fruits and vegetables, up to $35 per month for a four-month period during the pandemic.[10]

P-EBT will get $5 billion to maintain and expand its program, which has helped families provide breakfast and lunch for children who would have received meals at school but are currently not, due to remote learning.

Low-income seniors will be provided with $37 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, with a total of $1.4 billion in funding going towards programs under the Older Americans Act, which includes nutrition programs, community-based support programs, and the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

Another $1 billion will be directed toward U.S. territories to fund additional nutrition assistance. Territories like Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands receive a capped block grant (called the Nutritional Assistance Program, or NAP) rather than SNAP, putting low-income residents at greater risk during the pandemic if the programs are unable to expand with increased need.[11]

The act also allots $500 million for rural healthcare efforts, which includes vaccine distribution and nutrition assistance for vulnerable individuals.[12]

Agriculture

The USDA will be provided $3.6 billion to go towards supporting food supply chains that have been impacted by the pandemic, with language similar to that included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act that went to support ongoing operations of the Farmers to Families Food Box program.[13] Other agricultural and food chain assistance include $300 million for monitoring efforts of SARS-CoV-2 in animals and $100 million to reduce fees associated with federal inspections of small meat, poultry, and egg processing facilities.

One of the most notable provisions is that $4 billion will go towards providing debt relief, grants, training, and other forms of land assistance to socially-disadvantaged farmers, a quarter of whom are Black. A socially disadvantaged farmer is one who has been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudices because of their identity as a member of a group without regard to their individual qualities.[14] Due to systemic racism and discrimination in regards to credit and loans, Black farmers have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland, mainly since the 1950s.[15] Some are touting this as the most significant piece of legislation for black land ownership in the country.[16] An additional $1 billion will be directed towards land grant institutions and other organizations that give assistance to farmers of color.

Industry and Restaurants

The bill includes $7.25 billion for small-business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. It also supports restaurants specifically through $25 billion allotted to the Small Business Administration to fund a new grant program for food and beverage establishments. Potential grants go up to $10 million per institution and $5 million per physical location, limited to chains with a maximum of 20 locations. Of those funds, $5 billion is set aside to target businesses with less than $500,000 in revenue in 2019, and there is another $1.25 billion going towards the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.[17]

What amendments did not make it in the final bill?

The Senate parliamentarian did not approve the efforts to use the reconciliation process for inclusion of the minimum wage increase to $15 by 2025. Without being allowed to use reconciliation to pass this provision, Democrats would have needed 60 votes to pass the amendment. It was thus excluded from the Senate bill altogether. Alternatives were also proposed, including Sen. Josh Hawley’s three-year program, funded by taxpayer dollars, where those making below $16.50 per hour would receive a refundable tax credit worth 50% of the difference.

Other provisions recommended in FLPC’s policy brief but that were not enacted in this relief plan include expanding SNAP vendors to include restaurants to benefit both SNAP participants and bring economic relief to restaurant owners. To further this, Congress would need to modify the definition of food and food service establishments. FLPC also recommended that Congress temporarily remove the prohibition against using SNAP benefits for “hot foods or hot food products ready for immediate consumption” in 7 U.S.C. 2012(k) to promote greater food security. FLPC’s policy brief advocated for expanding the enhanced tax deduction for food donation to include transportation costs associated with food donations, offering tax credit for farmers donating food, and expanding liability protection for food donations. Eliminating the “no charge” requirement for liability protection for donated foods delivered by non-profits would help these organizations reinvest needed funds back into their mission.

The FLPC brief highlighted a need to protect farmworkers and other food workers delivering essential services. Some of its recommendations towards achieving this goal that were not included in the latest stimulus package included providing undocumented immigrants with all the benefits accorded by Congress in response to Covid-19 and a pathway to citizenship. Additionally, workers should be paid short-term sick leave and long-term family and medical leave regardless of status. And lastly, the brief also suggested that Congress should support employers paying essential food workers a premium wage or hazard pay during COVID by subsidizing their wages.  


[1]https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2021/01/22/biden-administration-expands-p-ebt-benefit-millions-low-income-and
[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biden-stimulus-check-executive-order-food-stamps-minimum-wage/
[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/05/biden-moving-forward-with-food-assistance-ahead-of-stimulus.html
[4] https://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-new-in-the-third-covid-19-stimulus-bill-11615285802
[5] https://www.fb.org/market-intel/whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021-for-agriculture
[6]https://www.chlpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/FLPC-Policies-v4.pdf?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=ca0ab850-ff82-46d7-b541-be6ac41d5762
[7]https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/food-assistance-in-president-bidens-covid-relief-plan-would-reduce
[8] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/10/covid-relief-snap-benefits-extended-increased-food-assistance.html
[9] https://www.chlpi.org/expanding-snap-options/
[10]https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/09/974841565/heres-whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-as-it-heads-toward-final-passage
[11]https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/food-assistance-in-president-bidens-covid-relief-plan-would-reduce
[12] https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/key-health-provisions-in-the-american-8826516/
[13] https://www.fb.org/market-intel/whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021-for-agriculture
[14] https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs141p2_029652.pdf
[15] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/08/reparations-black-farmers-stimulus/
[16] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/08/reparations-black-farmers-stimulus/
[17]https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/09/974841565/heres-whats-in-the-american-rescue-plan-as-it-heads-toward-final-passage
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