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CHLPI Blog

A Helpful Move on Food Date Labels

This blog was originally published by NRDC on June 6, 2019. Written by: Emily Broad Leib and Katie Sandson, Jackie Suggitt at ReFED, and JoAnne Berkenkamp at NRDC.

Toss it after the date on the label or keep it for later? That’s the question consumers face on a daily basis when confronted with the date labels on food. Confusion about what date labels do and don’t mean is a leading contributor to food waste and efforts to streamline date labels have become a core tenet of the food waste reduction playbook. 

In a helpful move in that direction, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas, recently penned an open letter to the food industry promoting the benefits of a streamlined food date labeling system. Yiannas’ letter encourages the food industry to use the standard labeling phrase “Best If Used By” on food products to indicate food quality, consistent with other recent government and private sector date labeling initiatives.

FDA’s letter also helpfully points out that, “If stored properly, a food product should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality after the quality date.” If you live in a household where some members want to pitch everything past the quality date and others want to keep it, the “keepers” can now cite the FDA in making your case to save that food for later.

NRDC and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) have advocated for standardizing date labels at the federal level since the release of our 2013 report, the Dating Game. In the 2016 Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent, ReFED identified standardized date labeling as one of the top three solutions to reduce food waste. As a group, we welcome FDA’s statement. We also believe that federal legislation continues to be vital for establishing a consistent, uniform labeling system nationwide. 

In the absence of federal regulation, consumers face a dizzying array of date labels on the foods they purchase. Forty-one states require a date label on at least some food products, and twenty states prohibit or restrict the sale or donation of food past the labeled date.  Those inconsistencies make it tough for manufacturers to comply and sow the seeds of confusion among consumers.

Also, manufacturers typically use date labels to indicate quality, but many consumers and businesses mistakenly believe they are indicators of food safety. This confusion leads consumers to unnecessarily throw out food once it reaches the quality date. An estimated 20 percent of consumer food waste is caused by confusion about the meaning of date labels.

FDA’s letter builds on various recent initiatives, including those spearheaded by the Food Marketing Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, USDA and ReFED, to standardize date labeling language and better communicate to consumers when date labels are meant to indicate quality and when they indicate food safety. FDA regulates approximately 80% of foods in the United States, making their recent statement particularly welcome.

However, the steps taken to date are not sufficient to achieve uniform date labeling across the country given the patchwork of state requirements and other factors.(See this issue brief for more information about state law conflicts). Also, FDA recommendations do not address the use of a standard term to indicate when food has been date labeled for safety and should be discarded once the date has passed. 

Federal legislation will be needed to truly tackle this issue.  Federal legislation should require that manufacturers and retailers that choose to use date labels use only one of two standard labeling phrases: “BEST If Used By” to indicate quality or “USE By” to indicate safety. Federal legislation should also override state laws that restrict the sale or donation of food past the quality date and support a national campaign to educate consumers.

NRDC, FLPC and ReFED are pleased to see FDA take this step to advance date label uniformity. We hope that federal legislation can be enacted to further reduce consumer confusion and keep more good food from going to waste.

 

FLPC Releases Issue Brief Calling for Federal Legislation to Standardize Date Labels

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) released an issue brief today that outlines the need for federal legislation to standardize date labels on food products. Date Labels: The Case for Federal Action describes existing government and industry efforts to standardize date labels and presents the case for why federal action is needed.

40% of the food in the United States goes uneaten. This wasted food has significant impacts on the economy, food insecurity, and the environment. The majority of food waste happens in consumer homes and consumer-facing businesses, and confusion over date labels is a significant cause of food waste.

Federal law does not regulate the use of date labels on food products, with the exception of infant formula. In the absence of federal regulation, states have developed their own date labeling laws. 41 states require date labels on at least some food products, and 20 states prohibit or restrict the sale or donation of food past the labeled date. Even in states that require date labels, manufacturers have broad discretion over how the dates on foods are selected. Most date labels are indicators of quality; however, many consumers and businesses mistakenly believe they are indicators of food safety. According to a survey conducted by FLPC, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and the National Consumers League, 84 percent of consumers at least occasionally discard food close to or past the date on its package, and one-third of consumers report they always do so.

Recognizing that confusion over date labels leads to unnecessary food waste, government and industry actors have made significant efforts in recent years to standardize date labeling language on food products. At the state level, eleven states introduced bills in the 2017-2018 legislation session that seek to standardize date labels or eliminate unnecessary date labeling requirements. On the industry side, the most significant industry action was the voluntary Product Code Dating Initiative, launched in 2017 by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). This initiative encourages manufacturers and retailers to use standard date labeling phrases on consumer-facing food packages to indicate quality and safety (read FLPC’s blog post about the initiative here). Most recently, FDA released a letter encouraging the food industry to use the phrase “Best if Used by” on food products to indicate quality. This is the same standard quality date phrase used by the Product Code Dating initiative.

These initiatives represent significant progress, but as the issue brief demonstrates, they are not sufficient to achieve standardization of date labels nationally. Due to the continuing patchwork of state date labeling laws, voluntary initiatives cannot fully cure inconsistent date labeling language. FLPC’s analysis found that the Product Code Dating Initiative conflicts with state laws in 27 states for at least one food product, meaning that manufacturers cannot use the voluntary standard in those states.

Moreover, state and industry initiatives cannot provide consistent education to consumers across the country. Because manufacturers cannot use the same date labeling language everywhere due to state laws, it remains difficult to educate consumers about what date labeling language means.

This issue brief demonstrates that federal legislation is necessary to achieve true standardization of date labels nationally. Federal legislation should require that manufacturers or retailers who choose to use date labels on foods use one of two prescribed labeling phrases: “BEST If Used By” to indicate quality, and “USE By” to indicate safety. These terms are consistent with the voluntary Product Code Dating Initiative. Federal legislation should also preempt state laws that ban the sale or donation of food past the quality date, and create a national consumer education campaign to inform the public about the meaning of these labeling terms.

FLPC has been advocating for the standardization of date labels since the release of its 2013 report, The Dating Game. We are pleased to see so much progress towards standardizing date labels at the state and industry level, but these efforts have limitations. As this issue brief demonstrates, it is time for a federally standardized date labeling system, and we look forward to working with federal and industry partners to develop such a system.

Read Date Labels: The Case for Federal Action.

 

Confused About Food Expiration Dates? You’re Not Alone

Originally published by NBC 6 (Miami) on Friday, May 24, 2019. Written by Phil Rogers and Katy Smyser.

Those frustrating food expiration dates — “best by” one date, or “use by” that one. One member of your family may want to throw something out. You may think the food is perfectly fine.

Who’s right?

“The majority of those labels are related to quality and not to safety,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School. “What they’re saying to consumers is, we’ve tested out this food, we’ve had people taste it, and this is when we think it will still taste the very best.”

Much of the confusion about food labels concerns that very issue—their source. Many believe expiration dates constitute government warnings. But save for one food type, the government does not get involved.

Visit the website of the United States Department of Agriculture and you’ll see this advisory: “With the exception of infant formula, if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly—until spoilage is evident.”

Canned cranberry sauce? The government says it’s good for a couple of years if it’s stored in your pantry. That unopened jar of jelly? Up to 18 months. Egg noodles? Two years. Tortillas? Three months.

The Agriculture Department says “best if used by” is a manufacturer’s way of indicating when a product will be of best quality or flavor. “Sell by” is an advisory to the store on how long to display the item in their inventory. And “use by” is likewise only a recommendation for when the food will be at its peak quality.

In each case the government says none of those advisories are related to food safety.

Broad Leib notes Wal-Mart did a deep dive in their stores and found a whopping 47 different food label scenarios. “That’s crazy,” she said. “Consumers are looking at that—how would they know what to make of those?”

 

You might want to whip out your calculators (or decoder rings) during the next couple of paragraphs. The labels get especially arcane when it comes to eggs.

Many egg cartons carry a “sell-by” date, which as noted above, is probably intended for your grocer. Nearby on the label, you’ll see a three-digit “Julian date”. That’s the consecutive day of the year, with January 1st as 001, and December 31 as 365, giving the exact day the eggs were packed.

According to “eggsafety.com”, refrigerated eggs stay safe 4 to 5 weeks beyond the Julian date. 

With all the labeling systems, it’s no surprise consumers are confused, with many disposing of food the second it hits the date on the package.

“We’re not only wasting food — which is bad for the environment, we’re clogging up landfills and then people are wasting money,” Broad Leib said. “People are wasting $2,000 a year because of food that they throw away.”

The government agrees, estimating fully one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste.

Experts caution you should be extra careful with a few items. Pay close attention to the dates on prepared foods and meats from the deli, for example, as well as un-pasteurized milk and cheese.

In an effort to bring some sanity to the process, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and the Food Marketing Institute have advocated consolidating labels to just two: “best if used by” for quality, and “use by” for safety.

The GMA says since the launch of the voluntary initiative in February 2017, 87 percent of products have adopted the streamlined phrases.

But Broad Leib believes this is one area where a little government regulation would go a long way. “For consumers to understand that they’re seeing standard labels, they need to be standard on all products,” she said.

Around the country, so-called “salvage stores” have jumped into the fray, selling many foods which have passed their expiration dates.

At one such store, Continental Sales Lots 4 Less near Midway Airport, shoppers flock to an area near the rear of the store where they’ll find a variety of items which are technically past their prime.

“We guarantee all the sales on that product,” CEO Ron Rojas said. “We hear stories all the time about people who have left things in their cupboards that they’ve bought here past the expiration date, left in there for six months, still eat it, and not have a problem with it.”

Jackie Saavedra is one of the store’s loyal shoppers.

“Especially with the canned goods—they don’t go bad,” she noted. “I’ve got stuff from last year that I purchased, and it was expired, but it’s still good.”

You can download an app developed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and Cornell University to help you figure out whether to keep food past the expiration date on the label. It’s called the “FoodKeeper App”. You can also check out specific categories of products by clicking here

 

‘Food is Medicine State Plan’ to begin providing services in June

Originally published by 22 News, WWLP on Wednesday, May 23, 2019. Written by Jennifer Zarate.

A group met on Wednesday to make sure healthy food is available to everyone in western Massachusetts.

The Franklin County Food Council brought together groups from across the state on Wednesday to talk about expanding access to food services.

Among those in attendance was the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School, who spearheaded the Food is Medicine State Plan along with Community Servings, a Boston-based nonprofit that provides food services to people with critical and chronic illnesses.

“We want to make sure that we bring those resources to western Mass as well. And so the Food is Medicine State Plan is an attempt to do that, right, to figure out where the resources are across our state and where the need is,” said Sarah Downer from the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School.

Downer told 22News, it’s been a year and half of gathering data to finally release the State Plan in June of this year. “That will begin the kick off of the implementation of the recommendations and the blueprint for expansion of services that we’ve created,” she added.

The state’s Department of Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Ashley Randle told 22News, the passing of the 2018 federal farm bill helped Franklin County farms produce the food needed to help make programs like Food is Medicine possible.

“There’s a lot of growth in the area; in the amount of farmland and their production levels, and for our farmers they’re looking to produce a wholesome, healthy, high-quality product from the Berkshires down to the Cape,” said Randle.

The upcoming launch event will be held at the State House in Boston on June 18.

CHLPI and ACLU File Class Action Lawsuit Challenging Denial of Lifesaving Hepatitis C Treatment to Hundreds of Vermont Prisoners

After years of advocating for Vermont prisoners to have access to life-saving medication for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), the ACLU of Vermont and the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, with cooperating counsel James Valente, yesterday filed a class action lawsuit challenging the state’s refusal to treat hundreds of inmates diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C. The case was filed in the federal district court in Burlington on behalf of two Vermont prisoners, Richard West and Joseph Bruyette, who seek to represent a class of inmates who have been or will be denied treatment without medical justification.

The Plaintiffs assert the Agency of Human Services (AHS), Department of Corrections (DOC), and Centurion of Vermont’s systematic denial of the HCV cure to prisoners diagnosed with chronic HCV violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are asking the court to end the Defendants’ policy of categorically denying effective, efficient, and medically appropriate HCV treatment.

ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Jay Diaz: “State officials are purposefully withholding the cure for Hepatitis C from hundreds of Vermont inmates, many of whom would have received it long ago if they were not imprisoned. This is not only inhumane and short-sighted—it is unconstitutional. Vermont cannot rely on cost considerations to try to justify unlawful treatment of the people in its care and custody.”

Hepatitis C is a progressive infectious disease—identified by the CDC as the deadliest infectious disease in America—that if left untreated is likely to cause a variety of medical symptoms, including permanent liver damage, and in some cases, cancer and death. More than five years ago, the FDA approved breakthrough medication with few side effects that effectively cures the disease.

After years of advocacy by the Vermont Coalition for Access to HCV Treatment, of which the ACLU of Vermont is a member, in 2018 DOC began to provide the cure to some inmates on a more regular basis, but still denied it to the vast majority because of the associated expense. Prior to this lawsuit, Coalition members appealed to DOC to stop denying access to the HCV cure to the hundreds of other Vermont inmates who were categorically excluded. DOC refused and to date has only treated about one-fifth of the more than 300 people with chronic Hepatitis C it has identified.

Kevin Costello is the Director of Litigation for the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School: “Hepatitis C is responsible for more deaths in the United States than any other infectious disease by a mile. There is no medical reason to actively prevent hundreds of incarcerated people from receiving curative medications for Hepatitis C. In fact, the refusal to treat prisoners needlessly prolongs suffering and heightens the risk of serious health problems for a group of people who are completely at the mercy of the State of Vermont to provide their health care.”

Similar lawsuits challenging denial of Hepatitis C treatment to individuals in state custody have been won or favorably settled by ACLU affiliates and other organizations in several states, including Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri and others, with more cases pending in additional states. 

The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Vermont, Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, and the law firm of Costello, Valente & Gentry.

The Complaint is available here.

The Motion for class certification is available here.

Trump Administration’s Latest Challenge to Affordable Care Act Rests on Shaky Legal Grounds

Originally published by Healio on May 20, 2019. Written by Janel Miller.

The Justice Department brief filed on May 1 amounts to the Trump administration picking and choosing what parts of the Affordable Care Act should stay in place and also suggests it does not understand the law, experts told Healio Primary Care Today.

“The administration wants to keep the components of the law that will help it the most and remove the components that help the American people the most,” Nancy Nielsen, MD, PhDa former senior advisor at CMS while Barack Obama was president, who is now the senior associate dean for Health Policy at the University at Buffalo, said in an interview.

“This latest brief is tortured legal reasoning,” Phil Waters, JD, clinical fellow at the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School added.

Background of latest brief

In December 2018, a district judge from Texas ruled that when Congress eliminated the penalty for not buying health insurance, the individual mandate was no longer constitutional under Congress’ taxation powers and thus, the ACA should be nullified. The Attorney General at the time, Jeff Sessions, declined to defend the ACA but did not say the entire law is unconstitutional.

In April, the Department of Justice asked the 5th District Court of Appeals in a two-sentence letter to affirm the District Court opinion. Then on May 1, the Justice Department filed a 50-page brief with the Court of Appeals, asking a federal appeals court to overturn the ACA. According to Health Affairs, oral arguments could take place between July 9 and 12, with the loser of those arguments undoubtedly appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nielsen said the newest brief adds a new layer of questions surrounding ACA’s legality, a debate that has been raging almost since the ink dried on the original ACA agreement almost 10 years ago.

“This is the third position the Justice Department has taken on this case that was considered down in Texas,” she said. “The May 1 Justice Department brief suggests that it is now taking the stance that all the ACA is unconstitutional. But it claims that since provisions like increased penalties for fraud and kickback don’t apply to the states, the Justice Department wants those parts to stay,” Nielsen told Healio Primary Care Today.

“In this 50-page brief, the Justice Department also repeatedly refers to the case where Supreme Court Justice John Roberts said the individual mandate was permissible. That case was considered a loss to conservatives, and a Republican-led administration referring to the dissenting side of a case that they lost to make the case for why they should win is not something I can recall happening before,” she continued.

Waters provided some hints to the Trump administration’s mindset.

“Its position on appeal is generally identical to the plaintiffs in the lower court who argued that the entire ACA is invalid. It believes that because the 2017 Congress reduced the individual mandate’s tax penalty to $0, it could no longer be upheld as constitutional. This alone would not matter much, as the mandate has little consequence without an enforcement penalty. However, the argument is that in addition to the mandate the rest of the ACA must also be invalidated; because when Congress enacted the ACA it expressly found that the community rating and guaranteed issue provisions were intertwined and essential to the mandate, these provisions cannot be severed from the rest of the law and therefore the entire ACA must be declared unconstitutional,” he said in an interview.

“The administration argues that in addition to having to purchase insurance, as the mandate is still law despite the lack of an enforcement mechanism, the plaintiffs are also harmed by the fact that the mandate ‘limits choices’ that they would otherwise prefer. This, in their view, is sufficient enough to allow them to challenge the entire ACA, even if, as they concede, the insurance reforms in question are constitutional standing alone,” Waters continued.

He suggested that the administration’s rationale indicates it does not understand the severability doctrine. “When one part of a law is found to violate the Constitution, [that] doctrine asks: does the entire law fail or is the law ‘severable’ such that only the offending provisions are invalidated?” he said.

“On this issue, congressional intent is highly dispositive. If part of a law is found to violate the Constitution, judicial restraint requires that courts only invalidate the portion of the law that is now unenforceable or unconstitutional as opposed to the entire legal scheme. This reinforces the principle of separation of powers — the judicial branch will avoid invalidating as much of the congressional branch’s work as possible,” Waters continued.

Nielsen added that the timing of these recent actions, coupled with the fact that there are several justices on the Supreme Court appointed by Trump cannot be ascribed to luck.

“The Trump administration is going into contortions to try and get what they want. What they want is to return this to the Supreme Court, which has a much different make up, a more conservative majority than before. Their end game is clear, and it’s nuts,” she said.

While Nielsen did not want to speculate on which might side win this legal round, Waters offered a possibility.

“Given the severability doctrine and the many obvious holes in the Administration and Plaintiffs’ legal reasoning, I am cautiously optimistic that the Court of Appeals will overturn the lower court’s decision. If it doesn’t, I am equally optimistic that even a conservative Supreme Court will,” he said.

The AMA, American Academy of Family Physicians and ACP have previously indicated they want the lower court decision overturned, stating that a Supreme Court decision to the contrary would eliminate individual marketplace and subsidies based on income, Medicaid eligibility expansion, coverage for certain preventive services, protections for pre-existing conditions and coverage for children under their parents’ health insurance plan until age 26; remove the 85% medical loss ratio insurance companies are currently obliged to follow; and reinstate annual and lifetime dollar limits to health care coverage.

Healio’s Health Care and Politics Resource Center includes the latest news on health care laws, proposals, regulations and policies in the United States and how they are likely to affect clinicians and patient care. In addition, this page features expert opinions on the impact of health care reform on clinical practice across a wide range of specialties. Be sure to bookmark the page for future reference.

 

FLPC Welcomes Food Law and Policy Clinic 2019 Summer Interns

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic is pleased to welcome the following interns working in the health clinic for the summer!

Jana Caracciolo

Jana is a rising 2L at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She became interested in food law and policy through her involvement in agricultural youth organizations such as the National FFA Organization, and Agriculture Future of America where she had the opportunity to meet and talk with people at all stages of the food system. Through her involvement in these organizations, Jana saw that although our food system does a fantastic job at producing food there is still room for improvement namely in the realms of food availability and education. With her interest in food policy, Jana studied food and resource economics in college. At UF Law, Jana is a co-chair for the 2020 Public Interest Environmental Conference and is a research assistant for the Center of Agricultural and Natural Resource Law. Jana also serves as a projects co-chair for the National Food Law Student Network.

Emma Dismukes

Emma is a third-year law student at Northeastern University School of Law with a focused interest in sustainable food production and environmentally safe agricultural and livestock practices.  She is co-chair of the Northeastern Environmental Law Society and the Publications Editor for the Northeastern Law Review. This past spring, she completed an internship with the Litigation Department of the NRDC in San Francisco, supporting a team of lawyers fighting to create a healthier environment. She also interned with the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, campaigning and garnering support for policy changes in the city. 

Emma attended Muhlenberg College where she obtained a degree in Business Management and Sustainability and developed a passion for corporate social responsibility and food policy. Prior to law school, Emma worked in the rewarding fields of food rescue and urban agriculture.

Mitchell Dowden

Mitchell Dowden is a rising 3L at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Mitchell is focused on the intersection of racial and food issues and is interested in increasing access to healthy foods for lower income people and building stronger, more sustainable food systems. He serves as treasurer of the law school’s Food Law Society and enjoys both celebrating and critiquing the popular culture worlds of publishing, photography, music, filmmaking, fashion, and art. 

Lindsay Gaesser

Lindsay Gaesser is currently pursuing an M.S. in Agriculture, Food, and Environment at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. She earned her J.D. from the University of Oregon School of Law, where she focused on environmental advocacy and natural resources conservation. At Friedman, she serves as the communications co-chair for the Future of Food and Nutrition Conference and is a contributing writer for the Friedman Sprout. In her spare time, she loves to run, cook, read, and explore Boston.

Matthew M. Giguere

Matthew M. Giguere is a University of Wisconsin J.D. Candidate.  He believes firmly that food is a human right and is working to eradicate food inequity and inaccessibility through a food systems approach.  Currently he advocates for food justice on his local food policy council and with the University of Wisconsin Human Rights Program.  Giguere entered law school with fourteen years of experience in the restaurant industry and four years of hospitality education experience.  Giguere is also a graduate in Food Culture and Communications (M.A. Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche), and Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management (B.S. University of Wisconsin-Stout).

Alicia Gilbert

Alicia is a rising 2L at The University of Alabama Culverhouse School of Law. Before law school, she studied food and nutrition at the University of Alabama. Alicia is a registered dietitian, certified yoga instructor, and personal trainer. She is passionate about holistic health and intuitive eating. In college, Alicia was a volunteer for an organization that provides free nutrition and health counseling to low-income individuals with prediabetes. She decided to attend law school to become an advocate for people with limited access to proper nutrition. After law school, Alicia hopes to work in a health law practice area. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, reading, and cooking. Alicia is excited about combining her two passions – food and law – this summer at the FLPC and learning powerful ways to promote equal access to proper nutrition.

 

The Green New Deal and the Future of Farming

Written by Ashley Maiolatesi, student in the Food Law and Policy Clinic. Originally published on The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s blog.

On April 18th , Harvard Law School hosted a panel entitled “The Green New Deal and the Future of Food,” with members of the law school and surrounding community were invited to listen to and discuss the options for our food system within Green New Deal discussions. Coordinated by Nate Rosenberg, an alumnus of the school and current visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, the panel featured three outstanding individuals who have devoted their careers to fighting for equality within the food system. Among them were Peter Lehner, Connor Stedman, and Ladonna Redmond. Each of the three panelists approached food with a different lens, leading to a riveting conversation following their initial presentations.

Peter Lehner, creator of Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food and Farming Program and prior director of Natural Resources Defense Council, kicked off the talk by outlining industrial agriculture’s enormous effects on climate change and the gaping holes in U.S. environmental law that make change it difficult to affect change. He explained that agriculture dominates land use in the United States, with the industry taking up 80% of the countries water use and 62% of land use. Lehner further focused his discussion to the meat production sector of agriculture, which is very resource and emission heavy. He closed by speaking about the enormous impact simple dietary changes could have on stabilizing the world’s climate.

Connor Stedman next spoke about three paradigms of agricultural business modeling in order to add context to the role farming plays in the Green New Deal. The three main paradigms Stedman explained were extractive, conservative, and restorative. Currently, the vast majority of U.S. agriculture operates with an extractive model, where the goal is to gain as much value from natural resources as possible regardless of the potential or actual impacts. In the past several decades, smaller farms across the U.S. have begun to switch to a conservative or conservation model of farming—this model aims to reduce the damage caused by extraction, but only as much as is economically feasible. The goal of conservative farming is not to stop harm, but to minimize it to acceptable levels. The third and most novel approach to farming is restorative farming. This model aims to actively rebuild degraded natural capital while redressing forms of historical harm. Stedman also touched on the use of carbon farming, as agriculture is responsible for nine percent of total green-house gases. Carbon farming is a little-used technique that actually sequesters carbon into the ground. Even without moving to more radical carbon farming and implementing existing conversation practices, agricultural could move from a net carbon emitter to a net sequesterer—a huge step for the future of farming. Reaching these kinds of sweeping changes can be achieved through several means. Of them, Stedman spoke about direct regulation of economic activity, an incentive or market-based approach, or payment for verified services. The first, direct regulation, has been used successfully in mitigating other pollutants, such as chloroflorocarbons, the chemical responsible for depleting the ozone layer. An incentive based approach has been used in the Farm Bill. The third option, payment for verified services, involves measuring and documenting sequestered carbon and receiving a payment for the amount successfully captured. All of these options have advantages and disadvantages, but could lead farmers on the path of carbon farming. Stedman then focused on systemic change, discussing five big (or big-ish, as he would say) ideas to reshape policy. These ideas include fully funding the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service, which currently has around half the funding that it would need to meet all of the requests it fields from farmers across the United States. In addition to funding this service, the mission should also change to include carbon farming and climate adaptation. Second on Stedman’s list is to scale eligibility for commodity crop subsidies and insurance in the Farm Bill in order to address conservation practices and climate impacts. Third, Stedman advocates for the creation of federal grants for climate or carbon adaptation. Fourth, Stedman spoke about property partition sales reform, which has roots in Jim Crow and Native American land management that led to a dramatic reduction in black farm ownership. Stedman conveyed an array of important ideas that created great fodder for later discussion and very likely later thought from many of the events’ attendees.

LaDonna Redmond closed the presentation portion of the evening with a powerful talk on the future of food and its ties to ending white supremacy. A founding member of the
National Black Food Justice Alliance, Redmond initially became interested in food and food justice due to lack of access to fresh and affordable food for her son in her hometown of Chicago. She spoke about the Green New Deal as a way to undo errors of the past, largely through land reform. Similar to Stedman’s discussion of the extraction model of farming, this model wasn’t only extractive for the land, but for Native Americans and African Americans working the land. Redmond explained that the extraction model was built in large part on free labor and free land, which means that in order to change the food system, we have to change not only systems of agriculture, but also the underlying systems of business in order to decolonize wealth. Redmond continued to lay out the history of America as it impacted farmers, touching on Native American removal, barriers to citizenship, the 1862 Homestead Act, the original New Deal, and others; all of these measures took people off the land in order to make way for extractive farming that continues to be harmful today. In discussing the Green New Deal today, Redmond cautioned that we have to be careful not to repeat mistakes of the past. The New Deal of the 1930’s didn’t include African American sharecroppers or address racism in the South, affectively leaving many out of the deal entirely. Subsequent policy has continued to fail to adequately address issues of housing, fair labor practices, and others in African American communities. The history Redmond recounted is one often overlooked and clearly left an impact on the audience.

Following the three speakers, the audience was eager to ask the panelists question. Members of the Cambridge and greater Boston area community, as well as students, were in attendance. Many of the questions centered around how to effectively push for sustainable change, a topic each speaker had clearly given much thought. Among their answers, the theme that reoccurred most often was conversation, coalition building, and trusting communities to make decisions. Overall, the Green New Deal has started a policy discussion that wasn’t happening before. Many groups have been considering how to bring diverse stakeholders together, especially those that have not traditionally rallied around the environment. Although many questions remain as to what the Green New Deal will look like, all three panelists gave an excellent glimpse into what a cohesive, inclusive plan could do for the future of farming and the future of the United States.

Watch the recording of The Green New Deal and the Future of Farming

 

Consulting in the Law

Written by FLPC clinical student Julia Nitsche for the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs of Harvard Law School.

Over the course of my three semesters with the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), I have worked on numerous projects, from state technical assistance, to the Farm Bill, to international food waste regulations.  All of them presented their unique sets of interesting challenges, and I feel like I have learned a ton from the collective experience of working on them all. Perhaps the most formative experience I had, was the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council Project.

In my first semester with the FLPC, I was assigned to a project where we worked with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC) to help them craft policies that would be more favorable to small or cottage food vendors. PFPC told us that they felt small food vendors in the Pittsburgh area were having a hard time opening new businesses, and they needed both guidance on how to make the process easier, and ideas on how to incentivize healthy food vendors to come onto the market.

The project was broad, and frankly a little scary. I didn’t know the first thing about the cottage food industry, or Pittsburgh, or Food Policy Councils (of which, it turns out, there are many). But with the help of my peers on the project and our clinic supervisor, we designed a plan and got to work. We put ourselves in the mindsets of a new business owner, combed through local food safety and vending regulations, and identified pain points. Then, we did some research on how other cities regulated small food vendors, and what types of incentives people had proposed for healthy food vending, like discounted vending permits for fruit & veg vendors operating in underserved areas. With a little structure and a lot of research, we finally put together a memo on what we had found, and our recommendations for how Pittsburgh could make its regulations less onerous on small, healthy food vendors.

I was lucky enough to go to Pittsburgh in my second semester with FLPC to continue the project and present our findings to the PFPC members. Overall, it was a great experience – they were very receptive, thrilled to have our help, and it really felt like our recommendations might make a difference.

While I am not going to practice law once I graduate, there are many things I take away from this project, and the rest of my experiences at FLPC, that I know will be useful to me in my career as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. First, I know that I can tackle any project, no matter how large. Combing through all of Pittsburgh’s statutes relating to food safety and vending regulations seemed insurmountable at first. But taking a step back, coming up with a plan, and then assigning jobs amongst our team broke a massive project into manageable pieces. I know that in consulting, this type of approach is paramount (and in law too). Second, this project helped me develop my research skills. I doubt I will have the occasion to look up local regulations in consulting, but there is something to be said for learning how to find information – knowing where to look and knowing when to ask. Third, meeting and presenting to our client, PFPC, definitely prepared me for my future career. And finally, this project centered around teamwork. We so rarely have the opportunity to work with others in law school, but on work projects we are often a much smaller piece of a larger whole. This is true in consulting, in law, and in life. I know that it was really helpful to me to have at least one experience in law school where I worked with someone else and truly had to communicate with them and rely on them to render a good result.

I am so grateful to FLPC for the great projects they have exposed me to and recommend anyone interested in food law or getting practical experience to join!

 

Put Down Your Hamburger, and Try Fly-Larvae Sausages and Locust Ice Cream

Originally published by MarketWatch on May 3, 2019. Written by Quentin Fottrell.

“Would you eat a commercial sausage made from maggots? What about other insect larvae and even whole insects like locusts?”

Those questions were posed by a University of Queensland science professor who has found some stomach-churning, high-concept alternatives to meat and dairy products. The professor, Louwrens Hoffman, said the global livestock industry won’t be able to continue meeting the demand for meat. He said people may soon have to swallow some unusual, but equally delicious, dishes. “The biggest potential for sustainable protein production lies with insects and new plant sources,” he said.

People are opening their wallets to new innovations in meatless products and, perhaps, expanding their palates. On Thursday, shares of Beyond Meat BYND, +3.97% soared on the first day of trading; the company produces plant-based “meat” sold at Whole Foods AMZN, +3.29%   and the restaurant chain TGI Friday’s. Hoffman said it’s an industry that will continue to grow. “An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food,” he said.

Chicken that contains 15% larvae still tastes good and has the same juiciness, tenderness and aroma, he said. “Insect protein needs to be incorporated into existing food products as an ingredient,” he said. “For example, one of my students has created a very tasty insect ice cream. Poultry is a massive industry worldwide and the industry is under pressure to find alternative proteins that are more sustainable, ethical and green than the grain crops currently being used,” Hoffman said.

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at the University of Queensland has a mission to create a more sustainable food culture. Larvae (maggots) from the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) are a perfect protein source for chicken production, for instance. Livestock farming requires massive resources. The production and transportation of a beef steak uses 160 time more land, water and fuel than a vegetarian dish, according to the nonprofit Four Paws US.

Many meatless products are already made from soy plants and genetically-engineered yeast, which is a fungus. Burger King QSR, +2.04% said this week it will roll out its meatless Whopper — a vegetarian patty by Impossible Foods that tastes and bleeds like real beef — nationwide. The meatless Whopper costs about $1 more than its beef brother, the original Whopper. It’s the latest fast-food chain to jump on the meatless bandwagon following others like White Castle and Carl’s Jr. 

The world’s largest food company, Nestle NSRGY, +0.05% also recently announced plans to debut plant-based burgers across supermarkets in the U.S. and Europe later this year. “The Awesome Burger” will be on sale where Sweet Earth products are sold. The country’s largest meat producer, Tyson FoodsTSN, -0.11%  the maker of hot dogs and chicken nuggets, will soon offer vegan protein. There’s even a meatless version of canned tuna.

Food companies are also growing meat in labs. Last year, German drugmaker Merck MRK, +0.47%  and European meat processing group Bell Food Group invested $8.8 million in Netherlands-based Mosa Meat, which makes beef by growing cattle cells. Finless Foods’ bluefin tuna is grown from tuna cells grown in a lab. It won’t come cheap and the Berkeley, Calif.-based startup plans on selling the lab-grown meat to high-end restaurants, The Wall Street Journal reported.

There’s demand for fake meat. Retails sales of plant-based foods in the U.S. that replace animal products grew by 17% to $3.7 billion in 2018. The total U.S. plant-based retail market is worth more than $4.1 billion, according to Nielsen and the Good Food Institute. There’s good reason for finding substitutes: Relying less on animal agriculture can help the environment, too, considering land used for grazing and raising livestock emits more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Up to 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 (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental action group. Some 160 billion pounds of discarded food also clogs up landfills.

“Food waste is responsible for over 7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key challenge in tackling climate change,” the United Nations says.

Food production comes with a steep environmental cost. Meat is the worst food product for producing greenhouse gases due to its production, packaging, transportation and consumption, data from the Environmental Working Group concluded. Lamb is the worst offender, causing 39.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions for every kilogram eaten. To put that in context: Lentils produce less than 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide for every kilogram eaten.

Hoffman said people shouldn’t balk at larvae and locusts. “It’s all pretty logical,” he said. “Chickens in the wild don’t eat feed preparations. They eat insects and larvae. And, while insects are largely foreign as a food in Western cultures, for many millions of people around the world they are a familiar part of the diet. There needs to be a better understanding of the difference between animal feed and human food, and a global reappraisal of what can constitute healthy, nutritional and safe food for all.”