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Groundbreaking Report Provides Government with Road Map to Cut U.S. Food Waste

Image Credit: Borgen Project

While more than 42 million Americans lack access to a sufficient amount of food, a staggering 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is uneaten, resulting in at least 62.5 million tons of wasted food annually. Meanwhile, a mere 10 percent of food is recovered each year across the entire supply chain. Tackling the growing problem of food waste has become a top priority for governments and businesses across the globe, but many laws and policies designed to enhance food recovery fail to address the needs facing the evolving landscape of food donation.

A new report by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Resources Defense Council provides a roadmap for the federal government to remove the barriers limiting the amount of food that makes it to those in need.

Don’t Waste, Donate: Enhancing Food Donations Through Federal Policy is a first-of-its-kind report that outlines actions the federal government can and should take to better align federal laws and policies with the objective of increasing the donation of safe surplus food to address the issues of food insecurity and food waste facing the United States.

The report, which includes an appendix targeting recommendations for Congress, the USDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture, offers presents 16 actionable recommendations covering five key areas of federal policy that can go a long way toward promoting food donation and helping the federal government meet its goal of a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. The report recommends policy changes that would:

  • Enhance liability protections for food donations
  • Improve federal tax incentives for food donations
  • Standardize and clarify expiration date labels
  • Better monitor and encourage food donations by federal agencies
  • Modernize and clarify food safety guidance for food donations

“If even a quarter of the recommendations in the report are embraced and implemented, millions of pounds of wholesome food will make it to those in need instead of clogging up our landfills,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. “Don’t Waste, Donate isn’t meant to sit on a bookshelf or online and gather dust. It’s a guide to adopting real change that can have a meaningful effect for millions of Americans. We want to see a real response from leadership to the recommendations we are placing before them.”

Action is already being taken by legislators and industry to implement some of the report’s recommendations. The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are two such examples. The two trade groups recently launched a nationwide voluntary standard for retailers and manufacturers to streamline date labels on consumer-facing food packages. Bipartisan federal legislation was also recently introduced (The Food Donation Act of 2017) to enhance and extend the liability protection for food donations in several ways that mirror the key policy changes recommended in Don’t Waste, Donate.

“Good food shouldn’t go to waste when so many people in this country are in need,” said JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate in the Food and Agriculture program at NRDC. “Updating federal food donation policies will help more organizations donate wholesome, healthy and safe food rather than tossing it, providing a much-needed safety net in our communities.”


Libby MacCarthy is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Maine and France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities, and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]


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