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Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill Can Help Curb Food Waste

Report by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, Natural Resources Defense Council, and ReFED shares 14 recommendations for Congress


Congress has its eyes on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) process this year, and a new report highlights the unique opportunity to not only support food security for millions of U.S. children and families, but to also bolster efforts on climate change by addressing food waste. The new report by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), in partnership with ReFED and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), outlines 14 recommendations for Congress that would reduce food waste through the upcoming CNR legislation. 

In 2019, around 81 million tons of food went uneaten or unsold in the U.S.—30-40% of the food supply— costing about $408 billion dollars and adding up to an estimated 130 billion meals’ worth of food. This waste represents a major missed opportunity to feed people who are food insecure. Instead, most of this food was transported to landfills where it rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Food waste is the number one material in U.S. landfills, making up 25% of all municipal solid waste. To achieve the Biden Administration’s recent commitment to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030, it is critical that the federal government make efforts to reduce food waste through all available avenues.

The report from FLPC, ReFED, and NRDC focuses on how Congress can incorporate food waste reduction efforts into CNR legislation. CNR is the periodic process of updating the statute that authorizes child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and other related programs. Reducing food waste aligns well with CNR programs’ goals of strengthening the nation’s nutrition programs and reducing food insecurity. Additionally, the specific programs CNR authorizes present especially relevant settings to educate children and consumers about reducing food waste.

“Congress has the power to significantly reduce food waste through the next CNR legislation,” said Emily Broad Leib, Faculty Director of FLPC and Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “Congressional action on food waste would be especially timely, as the U.S. emerges from the pandemic with high rates of food insecurity, and as the U.S. recently re-entered the Paris Agreement, announced aggressive new emissions goals, and held a global Climate Summit. We encourage Congress and administrative officials to adopt the recommendations outlined in our report, and not to miss out on an important opportunity for action on both climate and food security.”

The report identifies a number of solutions, including using the Child Nutrition Act to address broader policies related to food waste reduction and donation, as well as making changes specific to the school meal programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and WIC. It also highlights administrative opportunities through which the USDA could prioritize food waste reduction independent of new Congressional action.

“We’re facing a reckoning between the fact that at least 41 million Americans lack consistent access to adequate and nutritious foods, and approximately 130 billion meals worth of food is being wasted annually,” notes Yvette Cabrera, Food Waste Director at NRDC. “Our report shows how deeply interconnected the goals of reducing food waste, and addressing food insecurity and climate change are, and the need for holistic solutions, especially in the CNR, couldn’t be any clearer or more urgent.”

“The Child Nutrition Reauthorization process offers Congress such an amazing opportunity to achieve so much good,” said Dana Gunders, Executive Director of ReFED. “Not only will it immediately help ensure our children have access to healthy food, but by including food waste reduction measures as part of their legislation, they can help stretch food budgets further, protect the environment, and benefit our economy. It’s a ‘win’ across the board.”

 Read the Leveraging Child Nutrition Reauthorization to Reduce Food Waste report here.

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