Food waste bill introduced

Rep. Pingree's bill tackles food waste at four levels: consumer, grocery store and restaurant, schools and on the farm.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Me.)  introduced a bill in Congress aimed at reducing the amount of food that is wasted each year in the United States.  The Food Recovery Act includes nearly two dozen provisions to reduce food waste across the economy.

"Forty percent of all food produced in the United States each year is wasted," Pingree said. "The Food Recovery Act takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and at the same time reducing the number of Americans who have a hard time putting food on the table."

Pingree was joined by dozens of people representing groups and organizations from throughout Maine as she announced the bill.  Representatives from Hannaford Supermarkets, the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Portland Food Co-Op and Agri-Cycle Energy all spoke at the press conference at the Portland Food Co-Op when she made the announcement.

Pingree's bill tackles wasted food in four areas--at the consumer level, in grocery stores and restaurants, in schools and other institutions, and on the farm.

At the consumer level, Pingree's bill requires any manufacturer who wants to put a date on their food to use the words "Best if used by" and also—in letters just as big—the words "Manufacturer's suggestion only." 

"Currently there are no federal laws regarding expiration dates," Pingree said.  "Manufacturers can go overboard with the dates they put on food—and it can lead to consumers and retailers throwing out perfectly good food."

The bill also calls for a national campaign raising awareness on the impact of food waste and strategies to decrease wasted food at the household level.

The bill also looks to extends and expand tax deductions for farmers, retailers and restaurants that donate high-quality food to organizations serving people who are food insecure. It also calls for investment in storage and distribution programs to help food banks maximize their resources and study barriers that prevent the donation of surplus food.

In schools, the bill encourages school cafeterias to purchase lower-price “ugly” fruits and vegetables and expand grant programs to educate students about food waste and encourage food recovery. It also strengthens the connection between schools and farms to give both more resources to combat food waste.

"Wasted food costs us over $160 billion a year in this country," Pingree said.  "That works out to about $125 a month for a family of four.  We can save money and feed more Americans if we reduce the amount of food that ends up getting sent to landfills." 

The bill encourages composting as a conservation practice eligible for support under USDA’s conservation programs. It also looks to create an infrastructure fund to support construction of large-scale compositing and food waste-to-energy facilities in states that restrict food waste going into landfills.

Using research to reduce wasted food, the bill directs USDA to develop new technologies to increase shelf life of fresh food and also requires USDA to establish a standard for how to estimate the amount of food wasted at the farm level.

Positive feedback

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Food Policy Action and owner/chef of Crafted Hospitality, praised Pingree's bill.

"Wasting food is bad for the economy, bad for the environment and bad for Americans who are struggling to afford healthy food to feed their families. Pingree is a national leader on sustainable food and farming and I’m glad she’s taking on this huge issue of wasted food," Collichio said.

Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland and WastedFood.com, called Pingree's bill a roadmap to reducing wasted food.  

"Today is a great day for Americans who love food and hate waste," Bloom said.  "In fifteen years, we may well look back on this bill as a watershed moment in the fight against food waste."

Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, said Pingree's bill tackles an important problem with the nation's food supply.

“Food waste is one of the most pressing environmental and economic issues facing our food system, yet so much of the food we waste could go to better use in our households or shared with people in need. This groundbreaking legislation offers assistance to farmers and retailers, supports food recovery organizations, and helps consumers by clarifying the senseless date labels that appear on foods. It thus achieves many of the goals our clinic has advocated over the past few years and we are thrilled to work in support of its passage," Broad Leib said.

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