Approximately 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the US goes to waste, according to the USDA. In an attempt to address this critical issue, which has risen to the forefront in recent years, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced the Food Recovery Act, legislation that would aim to reduce food waste everywhere from stores, restaurants, and homes.

Snapshot Summary

Among other policies, the Food Recovery Act would implement the following:

  • In order to avoid consumer confusion, clarify that 'sell-by' dates are manufacturers’ quality suggestions only, and require uniform labeling language;
  • Expand tax deductions for farmers, retailers, and restaurants that donate high-quality food to nonprofit retailers serving those who are food insecure;
  • Invest in storage distribution programs to help food banks maximize their resources;
  • Create a Food Recovery Liaison at USDA to coordinate federal activities related to reducing food waste and implementing food recovery initiatives;
  • Require companies that receive food service contracts with the federal government to donate surplus food to organizations like food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens;
  • Direct USDA to establish composting as a conservation practice eligible for support under USDA’s conservation programs; and
  • Direct USDA to develop new technologies to increase shelf life of fresh food.

Concern Over Sale of Donated Food Provision

A provision in the bill that would allow for the sale of donated food is a cause for concern for Feeding America, the non-profit organization that represents a nationwide network of over 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries. Specifically, the provision is intended to allow donated food to be sold by non-profit grocery stores, which have opened up over the past several years in so-called "food desert" areas that are not served by grocery store chains.

Currently, low-income people do not pay for donated food provided through Feeding America food banks and agencies. Current law does not allow companies to take a tax deduction for the donation of excess food if those in need pay for the food. There are numerous concerns that would need to be addressed before a provision that would allow for the sale of donated food is enacted, including the potential for food safety liability issues, how to secure donor agreement for the donated food to be sold, and questions of which agency would have regulatory oversight to ensure that low-income people are charged a fair price by nonprofit retail models.

Inclusion in Farm Bill?

While food waste provisions have not been included in previous farm bills, the 2018 farm bill provides an opportunity to highlight food waste reduction issues that likely would receive bipartisan support in Congress. According to a report by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, the US spends $218 billion a year to grow, process, transport, and dispose of food that is never consumed; this certainly would provide some impetus for Congress to act on the issue.

The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency already have established goals to reduce food waste by half by 2030. Corporations also have expressed concern over the issue and have made a pledge to cut their food waste by half in the same time frame.