Dick Groves
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Reducing Food Waste Will Help Reduce Hunger

There’s good news and bad news on the US food insecurity front. The good news, according to a recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service: the estimated percentage of US households that were food insecure in 2015 declined significantly from 2014, to 12.7 percent, continuing a downward trend in food insecurity from a recent high of 14.9 percent in 2011.

The bad news is, well, there’s plenty of bad news. Obviously it’s a huge problem to still have 12.7 percent of US households that are food insecure (the ERS report notes that this food insecurity prevalence rate is still above the 2007 pre-recessionary level of 11.1 percent); 5 percent of US households had very low food security last year; and children were food insecure at times during the year in 7.8 percent of US households.

ERS explains that food-insecure households (those with low and very low food security) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources, while very low food security means the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources.

Here’s some more bad news: a lot of food is wasted in the US (and around the world, for that matter). Specifically, in the US, food waste is estimated at between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from ERS of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010.

Further, food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, quickly generating methane and helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the US (natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest source, followed by animal agriculture, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency).

Efforts are ongoing to reduce both the number of households that are food insecure and the amount of food that is wasted.

For example, on the hunger reduction front, there’s Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks that helps lead the fight against hunger in the US. Feeding America provides food to more than 46 million people through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in communities across the country, and also supports programs that improve food security among the people it serves; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry.

On the food waste issue, in 2013, USDA and EPA joined together to launch the US Food Waste Challenge to provide a platform to assess and disseminate information about the best practices to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste. By the end of 2014, the joint US Food Waste Challenge (EPA plus USDA) had over 4,000 participants.

But there’s a lot more that can be done. For example, as reported on our front page this week, considerable progress and investments have been made in food waste reduction, but there are still “many opportunities for improvement in food waste reduction and diversion,” according to a new report from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA). That alliance consists of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Food Marketing Institute and National Restaurant Association.

The top barrier to food donations for food manufacturers was regulatory constraints, the FWRA found. Ranking second was liability concerns.

Believe it or not, a possible solution to at least some of these problems could come from Congress.
Earlier this year, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would standardize food date labeling.

How would this help reduce food waste? As the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016 explains, date labeling practices on food packaging cause confusion with “sell-by,” “best-by,” “use-by,” and “best before” dates, leading up to 90 percent of consumers to “occasionally” throw out still-fresh foods. Confusion over the meaning of date labels is estimated to account for 20 percent of consumer waste of safe, edible food.

The legislation would regulate two types of dates on food: quality dates (“best if used by”) and safety dates (“expires on”).

Here again, there’s both good news and some bad news. The bad news is that Congress is going to be adjourning in a few (mercifully) short weeks, and it’s safe to say that the Food Date Labeling Act is not on its lame-duck agenda. Also, after it was introduced back in May, the legislation didn’t pick up a single co-sponsor.

The good news is that (as Chicago Cubs fans no longer have to say) there’s always next year, or the next two years anyway. Both the chief Senate sponsor of the legislation, US Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and the chief House sponsor, US Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), were re-elected earlier this month, so chances are they will be reintroducing the Food Date Labeling Act sometime in the next year or so.

Here’s another piece of good news: while the legislation was introduced by two Democrats, Republicans have taken notice. Shortly after the Food Date Labeling Act was introduced last May, the House Ag Committee held a hearing on the sources and impacts of food waste. US Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), the panel’s chairman, said it wouldn’t be the committee’s last hearing on the subject. That’s good to know.
Solving the food waste problem is one step toward solving the food insecurity problem.. DG

Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to dgroves @cheesereporter.com.

 

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