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Congress’s Conference Report Solidifies Farm Bill Support for Major Food Waste Reduction Measures

40 percent of food in the U.S. goes to waste each year, costing billions of dollars, preventing wholesome food from getting to people in need, and causing tremendous ecological harm. The 2018 Farm Bill represents a crucial opportunity to address food waste in a way that benefits farmers, consumers, and the environment, and FLPC is excited to report that Congress has provided major new investments in food waste reduction in this farm bill.

Recognizing the potential for the Farm Bill to make a significant impact on food waste reduction, FLPC published Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill, outlining 17 recommendations for incorporating food waste measures into the 2018 Farm Bill. FLPC has been closely tracking the 2018 Farm Bill process, and released blog posts analyzing proposed programs to reduce food waste in both the House and Senate bill drafts. The 2018 Farm Bill represents the first U.S. Farm Bill to provide dedicated programming, resources, and efforts to reduce food loss and waste in the U.S.

Though drafts of the Farm Bill passed the House and Senate in summer 2018, these versions were quite different from one another, and in August 2018, a conference committee was formed to reconcile differences between the two bills. On December 10, 2018, the farm bill conference committee released the Farm Bill Conference Report. The conference report includes updated bill language, referred to as the conference substitute, and a joint explanatory statement.

After reviewing the conference report, FLPC is thrilled to see that all of the provisions in the House and Senate drafts of the Farm Bill related to food waste remained in the conference version, including many that reflect FLPC’s longstanding recommendations. FLPC is eager to work closely with Congress on these provisions as the Farm Bill is finalized, and with USDA and other agencies on implementation of these programs once the legislation goes into effect.

In partnership with the Farm Bill Law Enterprise, FLPC is also compiling a more comprehensive review of a range of topics in the conference report, including score cards evaluating several key programs, which will be available here.

Food Waste Provisions Included in the Farm Bill Conference Report

Below we briefly describe the programs relevant to food waste that appear in the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Report.  

Pilot Project to Support State and Local Composting and Food Waste Reduction Plans:

The conference version of the farm bill includes a major investment in a program proposed in the Senate farm bill to provide funding for the development of local composting and food waste reduction efforts. Created within a new Farm Bill section on urban agriculture, this program will support pilot projects in at least 10 states to develop and implement municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans. Eligible projects must increase access to compost for agricultural producers, encourage waste management and permaculture business development, reduce municipal food waste, and divert food waste from landfills, among others. Projects applying for funds will receive priority review if they address other food waste strategies, including food recovery efforts. $25 million is committed to the section, to be shared between these pilot projects and grants in urban agriculture specified within the section.

This exciting new program aligns with FLPC’s recommendation for the farm bill to provide funding to support state and local efforts to implement organic waste bans and food waste reduction plans. These policies can transform the landscape of food waste reduction by creating new infrastructure and incentives to recover food and address the harmful environmental impacts of food waste in landfills.

Grant resources for food recovery infrastructure investments:

The Farm Bill conference report amends The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to better promote the donation of agricultural commodities. TEFAP provides food and funding to states to supply emergency feeding assistance to those in need. The Farm Bill would allocate $4 million per year to states for projects involving the “harvesting, processing, packaging, or transportation” of donated agricultural commodities. States can use this funding for projects that reduce the waste of agricultural products through donation, provide food to food insecure individuals, and create new partnerships to distribute food to those in need. USDA must provide guidance on best practices to reduce food waste among donated food commodities for TEFAP. This addition to TEFAP aligns with FLPC’s recommendation that the Farm Bill include grants to support investment in food recovery infrastructure.

This funding was initially proposed in the Senate farm bill, and remains the same except for the addition of “transportation” as an eligible project purpose.

Food Loss and Waste Liaison and Study on Food Waste:

The Farm Bill conference report creates a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison as a new staff position in the USDA. The Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison will “coordinate Federal programs to measure and reduce the incidence of food loss and waste.” The Liaison’s duties include harmonizing efforts between the USDA, the EPA, and the FDA, all of whom play vital but differing roles in food waste prevention; supporting and promoting federal programs to measure and reduce food waste and increase food recovery; serving as a resource for food waste and food recovery organizations; raising awareness of existing liability protections for food donation; and making recommendations for expanding food recovery and waste reduction efforts.

The conference version also charges the Liaison with working with USDA to conduct a study evaluating available methods to measure food waste, factors that cause food waste, and the cost and volume of food loss. The study also will assess the efficacy of existing liability protections for food donation and ensure that USDA programs do not interfere with food waste reduction efforts. The Liaison will be required to submit a report on the results within one year, followed by a second report the following year that includes an estimate of food wasted that year and the results of USDA’s food waste reduction activities. This study aligns with FLPC’s recommendation that Congress provide funding for research on food waste–comprehensive research on the amount and causes of food waste in the U.S. has been limited, and such research will help inform future policies and programs and evaluate progress over time.

The Liaison position was originally proposed in the House farm bill, and the Study on Food Waste came from the Senate bill; some minor changes were made as they were combined. The Liaison position comes directly from FLPC’s recommendation to create a Food Waste Coordinator within the USDA.

Food Donation Standards for Liability Protections:

The conference report includes a provision clarifying liability protections for food donation and allowing for food donation directly from certain donors to individuals. Currently, under the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, donors receive comprehensive liability protection, but only  for donations made to a nonprofit organization that distributes the food to those in need. This provision would expand protection to donations made by a “qualified direct donor” directly to individuals in need. “Qualified direct donors” are entities that have food safety certification and licensing, such as retail food stores, restaurants, and agricultural producers; these entities have the knowledge to ensure food will be donated safely. Extending liability protections to direct donations can increase efficiency, reduce costs, enable timely use of perishable food, and support donation where quantities of surplus food are too small to be used by a food recovery organization.

The provision also instructs USDA to provide guidance about liability protections for “qualified direct donors” when donating surplus food to those in need. Despite the strong protections offered by the Emerson Act, the majority of food businesses cite fear of liability as a reason for not donating surplus food. Before now, no agency has created guidance, clarified the language of the Act, or raised awareness about these protections. While creating guidance on the protections for qualified direct donors, USDA has an opportunity to provide clarity on terms like “apparently wholesome food” that remain unclear in the Emerson Act itself.

FLPC has long advocated for changes to the Emerson Act to provide guidance on the Act and expand liability protections to align with current food donation practice, and we are thrilled to see this language included in the farm bill.

Milk Donation Program:

The conference report creates a Milk Donation Program to reimburse dairy farmers for donating class 1 fluid milk products to nonprofit organizations that distribute the milk. The new Milk Donation Program is intended to make it easier for producers and processors to donate milk to food recovery organizations. The program will receive $9 million for 2019 and $5 million for each subsequent year until 2023. This program was proposed in the Senate farm bill and replaces the existing Dairy Product Donation Program.

Local Agriculture Marketing Program:

The conference report establishes the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which combines the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) with the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and provides $50 million per year in permanent mandatory funding (a slight reduction from the $60 million proposed in the Senate bill). LAMP would provide grants to business and nonprofits for a range of eligible activities; relevant to food waste, these activities include the promotion of “new business opportunities and marketing strategies to reduce on-farm food waste.” This provision aligns with FLPC’s recommendation to amend the language authorizing LFPP grants to include “food-recovery related businesses or nonprofits” as entities eligible for the program, to ensure they are eligible to benefit from these funds.

Spoilage prevention:

The conference report amends the Speciality Crop Research Initiative to include funding for efforts to better understand systems to “improve and extend the storage life of specialty crops,” consistent with proposed language from the Senate bill. Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other horticulture crops. FLPC has previously recommended that Congress provide grant funding for new technologies to slow food spoilage.

Carbon Utilization and Biogas Education Program

The conference version of the farm bill includes a provision to support education around biogas. Biogas can be produced from any organic waste, including food waste and animal manure. Biogas operations capture gases that would otherwise contribute to local air quality problems and climate change and use them to generate electricity. This provision establishes competitive grants for entities that provide education to agricultural producers and stakeholders about the aggregation of organic waste from multiple sources in single biogas systems.

This provision was originally in the Senate farm bill, but in that bill it also included additional provisions to support the development of the biogas industry. These provisions would have created an Interagency Biogas Opportunities Task Force to coordinate policies, programs, and research around biogas, and also would have authorized a study on biogas. Interestingly, although this additional language was not included in the conference version, the joint explanatory statement to the conference report states that the conference committee expects USDA to coordinate policies and programs around biogas and to study biogas markets; it also directs USDA, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, to establish an Interagency Biogas Opportunities Task Force, whose composition and tasks would match those originally proposed in the Senate bill.

Next Steps for the Farm Bill

Now that the conference committee has produced its report, the report will be sent back to the House and Senate for a vote. The House vote is anticipated to occur on December 12, 2018; the Senate vote is anticipated on December 13, 2018.

Overall, FLPC is grateful for the attention paid to the pressing problem of food waste in this farm bill and looks forward to next steps in implementing these new policies and programs towards food waste reduction nationally.

To track the next steps of the farm bill and review farm bill score cards, visit the Farm Bill Law Enterprise website here.