Today, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), with support from ReFED and Food Policy Action, released Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill, a report detailing how Congress can take action to reduce food waste, with a focus on opportunities to make such changes in the next farm bill. Passed every 5 – 7 years, the farm bill is the largest piece of food and agriculture-related legislation in the United States that addresses virtually every aspect of our food and agriculture system, from crop insurance to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Yet, although each farm bill appropriates nearly $500 billion to support our food system, not a single dollar is spent to ensure that the food produced in this country makes it to people’s plates instead of the garbage.
In the US, we waste approximately 40% of the food we produce, and this waste has tremendous economic, social and environmental costs. As we throw 62.5 million tons of wholesome food into the landfill each year, approximately 1 in 7 Americans is food insecure. We spend precious natural and economic resources—about 20% of fresh water, farmland, and fertilizer and $218 billion per year—to produce, process, distribute, and dispose of this food. The farm bill provides a predictable and visible opportunity to address food waste on a national scale.
Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill outlines 17 recommendations organized to reflect the priorities outlined in the EPA’s food waste reduction hierarchy. Similar to the EPA hierarchy this report breaks food waste recommendations into categories based on whether they are intended to reduce food waste at the source, recover more food for those in need, or recycle food scraps through composting or anaerobic digestion. The report also proposes a system of government coordination to ensure that food waste solutions can be effectively implemented and remain a federal priority. Each recommendation is followed by implementation opportunities, which describe how the policy change could be incorporated into the farm bill or other federal legislation.
The recommendations vary widely in scope, from small modifications that could add a food waste reduction lens to established programs, to new programs that could catalyze larger-scale food waste action and awareness. For example, the farm bill currently includes several grant programs to support distribution, processing, and marketing of food for sale. Congress could broaden the eligibility language for these grant programs to include food recovery organizations. This simple tweak could provide much needed support to food recovery organizations to enable them to purchase necessary equipment and infrastructure, such as refrigerated vehicles, kitchen equipment, and storage space, as well as to pay for labor needed to prepare and transport donated food. Congress could also use the next farm bill to launch a national consumer education campaign to raise consumer awareness about food waste and ways to reduce it. According to ReFED’s estimates, such a campaign would have the potential to divert 584,000 tons of food waste from the landfill and create $2.65 billion in economic value, annually.
As the first farm bill to be written since the adoption of the national food waste reduction goal—to halve food waste by 2030—the 2018 Farm Bill represents a critical opportunity for the federal government to take effective and wide-ranging action to reduce food waste. The solutions that the federal government can implement through the next farm bill can increase profits and efficiencies across the food system, help people in need access to wholesome food, and protect our planet from harmful environmental consequences associated with waste.
This report builds on a growing series of reports and resources by FLPC describing policy changes at various levels that could help reduce food waste. In March 2017, FLPC and the Natural Resources Defense Council released Don’t Waste, Donate: Enhancing Food Donations through Federal Policy, a report outlining policy changes the federal government can implement to better align our laws with the goal of donating surplus food to those in need. In fall 2016, FLPC released Keeping the Food out of the Landfill, which offers policy recommendations specific to states and localities.