How to help reduce food waste in the United States

Amazingly, the United States federal government does not allocate any money to help reduce food waste as part of its centre-piece Farm Bill legislation.

Currently around 40% of food produced in the U.S. ends up in landfill with the country spending $218 billion each year on food that is never eaten.

With the next U.S. Farm Bill up for renewal next year, a new report from the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), with support from ReFED and Food Policy Action, sets out opportunities that the U.S. Congress could choose to implement through the 2018 bill to reduce food waste.

The U.S. Farm Bill authorizes $500 billion of spending over 5 year periods across the entire food system with the last one passed in 2014. It is an omnibus piece of legislation that shapes the U.S. food system from programmes such as crop insurance to the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The U.S. has made some recent progress to tackle its enormous food waste problem. In 2015, for the first-time ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) together announced a food waste reduction goal, aiming to cut U.S. food waste by 50% by 2030. There have also been individual food and drink company pledges to reduce food waste and some initiatives at a State level.

The report says the federal government should now make food waste reduction a legislative priority in upcoming years.

The report sets out four broad policy areas, with a number of detailed programmes, that could be included in the next farm bill. These are:

  1. Food Waste Prevention: for example, standardising and clarifying date labels, currently there is no federal system regulating ‘sell by’, ‘best by’, or ‘use by’ labels; launch a national food waste reduction and awareness programme – American consumers are responsible for 43% of all U.S. food waste and such a programme could help them in their role to reduce food waste.
  2. Food Recovery: look at ways to reduce the barriers for farms, food manufacturers, restaurants and retailers to donate surplus food for redistribution to those in need.
  3. Food Waste Recycling: support economically beneficial methods of food disposal to help ease pressures on landfill sites such as schemes to improve composting or to use food waste in anaerobic digestion.
  4. Food Waste Reduction Coordination: currently there is no government office or agency responsible for overseeing food waste reduction or recovery efforts. As a result, the report says, national food policies are developed without food waste and food recovery in mind, opportunities to raise awareness about food waste are missed, and policy solutions that could help towards reducing food waste never make their way into law.

Report: Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, published May 3rd, Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill.