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Senator Blumenthal Announces Federal Bill to Reform Date Labels

Written by Austin Bryniarski, Yale College, and former FLPC 2014 summer intern

On Thursday, Feb. 18, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic participated in a roundtable discussion on federal legislation to reform date labeling, hosted by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The senator announced his intention to introduce a bill that would create a national standard for date labels on food products. The legislation comes after years of legal research on food waste and date labels at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.

The roundtable, hosted at Stew Leonard’s of Newington, Conn., included Ona Balkus, Senior Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Steve Armstrong, Chief Food Law Counsel at Campbell Soup Company, representatives from Stew Leonard’s grocery store, the Connecticut Food Bank, Foodshare, and several former FLPC summer interns from Yale College and Law School. The group discussed how the legislation would allow food businesses to meet a uniform standard across the industry, allow for more high quality and wholesome food to be sold or donated, and divert greenhouse gas-emitting food waste from landfills. The current system of date labeling is inconsistent and confusing, causing consumers to throw away wholesome food. This system contributes to a food waste epidemic that wastes 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. and costs the average family over $1500 annually. Blumenthal’s legislation would clarify and standardize those labels.

The bill proposes a dual label system, which will distinguish between a quality date and a safety date. The quality date will be indicated by the phrase “best if used by,” while the safety date will be indicated by the phrase “expires on.” The current system makes no distinction between whether a date label is conveying information about quality or safety, causing consumers to throw food away, even if it is perfectly safe to eat. The bill also mandates that the Food and Drug Administration provide consumer education on the new system, so that consumers are aware of the new labels and what they mean. The legislation would also ensure that states could not create date labeling laws that prohibit sale or donation of food after the quality date, amending state laws that currently forbid the donation of perfectly safe food.

For more coverage of the event, check out coverage from CBS, WTNH, Hartford Courant, and Fox. Sen. Blumenthal’s introduction coincides with the release of Expired, a short film by the FLPC that explores the connection between food labeling laws and food waste.

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