40 percent of food in the U.S. goes to waste each year, causing economic and ecological harm. Given the importance of preventing unnecessary food loss and providing wholesome food to those in need, there is a growing movement to address this at the federal level. The 2018 Farm Bill represents a valuable opportunity to elevate the importance of this issue, since it is the first farm bill to be released since USDA and EPA announced a national goal to cut U.S. food waste in half by 2030. FLPC published Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill last year with this in mind, outlining ways to incorporate food waste measures into this piece of legislation. FLPC was pleased to see both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill incorporate some of the recommendations from this report, despite several missed opportunities.
Senate Farm Bill Process
The Senate introduced a draft farm bill on June 8, 2018. FLPC’s earlier blog post outlines the food waste priorities included and omitted in Senate’s initial draft of the farm bill. The Senate advanced its farm bill out of committee on June 13, 2018, adding several amendments. Still more amendments were added to the version that came to the Senate floor on June 27, 2018. On June 28, 2018 the Senate passed its bipartisan version of the farm bill, called the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, on an 86-11 vote.
Below, we provide updates on relevant food waste measures included in the draft, and discuss additional relevant amendments that made it into the final version.
Updates to Food Waste Measures Since Initial Draft
Note: For more information about each program mentioned below, see FLPC’s initial blog post on the Senate farm bill draft.
Grant Resources for Food Recovery Infrastructure Investments: The first draft of the Senate’s version of the farm bill allocated $10 million per year for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to support projects “harvesting, processing, or packaging” 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. This program made it into the final Senate bill, but with funding of only $4 million.
Pilot Project to Support State and Local Composting and Food Waste Reduction Plans: The Senate’s draft version of the farm bill included $25 million per year for pilot projects in at least ten states to support the development of local composting and food waste reduction efforts, aligning with FLPC’s recommendation that the Farm Bill allocate federal funding to support state and local efforts to implement organic waste bans and food waste reduction plans. FLPC is pleased to see that this program is included unchanged in the version of the farm bill that passed the Senate.
Study on Food Waste: The Senate’s original draft of the farm bill called for a study to evaluate the available methods to measure food waste, standards for food waste volume, and factors that cause food waste. The study is included in the final version of the Senate farm bill, with a list of more topic areas for the USDA study on food waste, such as the cost and volume of food loss of domestic and imported fresh food products, as well as the reason for and potential economic value of this loss. In addition, the study must research measures to ensure that USDA programs “do not disrupt existing food waste recovery and disposal by commercial, marketing, or business relationships.” FLPC applauds the support for this research, which aligns with its recommendation that Congress provide funding for comprehensive research on food waste.
Local Agriculture Marketing Program: The Senate farm bill would establish the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), combining the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) with the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and providing $60 million per year in permanent mandatory funding. The new LAMP program includes promotion of “new business opportunities and marketing strategies to reduce on-farm food waste” as an eligible activity. The version of the farm bill that passed the Senate maintains this program, aligning with FLPC’s recommendation to ensure that food recovery organizations can access these grants.
Spoilage Prevention: In both Senate’s original draft and passed version of the farm bill, a change in the Speciality Crop Research Initiative would provide funding for efforts to “improve and extend the storage life of specialty crops,” which includes fruits and vegetables. This aligns with FLPC’s recommendation that Congress provide grant funding for new technologies to slow food spoilage.
Milk Donation Program: The Milk Donation Program would reimburse dairy farmers for donating class 1 fluid milk products to public or private nonprofit organizations that will then distribute the milk. This program, which replaces the Dairy Product Donation Program from the 2014 Farm Bill, lists reducing food waste as one of the purposes of the program, in addition to encouraging the donation of eligible milk and providing nutritional assistance to low income individuals. The program is allocated $9 million for 2019 and $5 million for each subsequent year until 2023.
New Food Waste Measures
The new programs below were not included in the Senate’s original draft of the farm bill, but were added via amendments and are included in the version of the farm bill that passed the Senate.
Food Donation Standards for Liability Protections: FLPC was excited to see an amendment to the Senate bill that provides some clarity around liability protections for food donation and allows for food donation directly from certain donors to individuals. This amendment is based on a portion of the Food Donation Act introduced earlier this year by Senator Hatch and co-sponsored by Senator Blumenthal. According to this amendment, USDA will be instructed to provide guidance as to liability protections for “qualified direct donors” when donating surplus food to those in need.
Previously, the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act only provided liability protection for donations made to a nonprofit organization, which then would distribute the food to those in need. This amendment aims to expand protection to donations made by a “qualified direct donor” directly to individuals in need. “Qualified direct donor” is defined to include only entities that have food safety certification and licensing, such as retail food stores, restaurants, and agricultural producers, so that food will be donated safely. Extending protection to these 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.
This amendment also instructs USDA to create guidance about the protections available to qualified direct donors, consistent with another FLPC recommendation: the creation of guidance on the Emerson Act. Despite the great protections offered by the Emerson Act, the majority of food businesses cite fear of liability as a reason for not donating surplus food. Yet no agency has created guidance that raises awareness and clarifies the language of the Act. When 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 practices, so this addition to the Senate version of the farm bill is a valuable step in the right direction. However, FLPC had also hoped to see the full text of the Food Donation Act incorporated into the bill, since it more fully addresses these recommendations. FLPC hopes to see other elements of the Food Donation Act incorporated into future legislation, such as liability protection for food that is sold at a nominal price and protection for food mislabeled in ways that are not related to safety.
Biogas Research and Adoption of Biogas Systems: An amendment from Senator Bennet (D-CO), introduced in the Senate’s committee markup, would support efforts to develop the biogas industry. Biogas can be produced from any organic waste, including food waste, animal manure, and waste in landfills. Biogas operations capture gases that would otherwise contribute to local air quality problems and climate change and use them to generate electricity.
The amendment creates an Interagency Biogas Opportunities Task Force that will coordinate policies, programs, and research around biogas. It also calls for a study and data collection on biogas and provides funding for competitive grants to educate biogas producers on opportunities to aggregate organic waste from multiple sources in a single system.
FLPC’s Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill recommends that Congress provide research and development funding to expand the range of compostable and digestible materials and explore additional applications for compost and digestate. The Bennet amendment grant program is a useful step towards developing biogas as part of an organic waste system.
Next Steps for the Farm Bill
Now that versions of the farm bill have passed both the Senate and the House, a conference committee must meet and reconcile the two bills. The committee will produce a compromise bill, called the conference report, that must pass both chambers. The conference committee process addresses differences between the two bills, but cannot bring in topics not included in either bill. This means that areas that FLPC had been hoping to see included that were not incorporated into either version, such as standardized date labeling, will not be addressed in the farm bill. We hope the food waste priorities already written into the bills, including the valuable programs in the Senate bill addressed above and the Food Waste Liaison position in the House bill, will make it into the final conference report and become law in the final 2018 Farm Bill. We hope that other top priorities for food waste reduction will be included in future legislation.