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The US Must Combat Food Waste Now

EmmamHowe MA, United States 0 Ratings 33 Discussions 1 Group posts

Posted by: EmmamHowe // Marketing/Green Policy Development

If you had to take a guess of how much food produced in America is wasted, what would it be? 5%? Maybe 15%? Believe it or not, 40% of all food produced in America is wasted according to a widely cited 2009 study, The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. Recently, this study has caught the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Last month, legislators had a surprisingly productive and progressive meeting surrounding food waste and food labeling. They debated a bill proposed by Senator Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to establish a uniform national date labeling system in order to reduce consumer confusion, simplify regulatory standardization for companies, and reduce the waste of food and money.

The US public is uninformed and confused about food labels and expiration/sell by dates, and this lack of clear information has led to unfortunate, preventable, and costly losses. Available data reveals that a large percentage US food waste results from people throwing food away at home because they are confused by the dates or expiration date/sell by labels. Presently, the “sell by” and “best by” dates on food items do not have to follow any sort of government or industry-wide standard--even worse, the two terms have different meanings. This may be doubly confusing and dangerous for a consumer who thinks a “sell-by” date means the same thing as a “use-by” date, as these consumers are more likely to waste twice as much food. Even consumers who do understand the difference between these labels may still throw out food based on its “sell-by” date in order to be “better safe than sorry.”

The issue is that “sell by” and “Use by” dates are recommended by food producers, but they are not standardized nation-wide. In a 2013 report, the Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council stated, “despite the original intention of increasing consumer knowledge about their food, date labeling has become a largely incoherent signaling device for consumers.” The report found that label confusion caused nearly 20 percent of all food waste. Most of these labels address the food’s peak freshness, not its safety, yet many Americans still throw food out whenever they see that the “use by” or “sell by” date has passed.

In the past, food corporations and food chains fought hard to prevent the passage of a legislative initiative requiring the standardization of food labels. In the 1970s, the National Association of Food Chains lobbied against a previous effort to regulate date labels, arguing that new rules would raise costs and discourage companies from voluntarily providing date information. However, this year, its successor, the Food Marketing Institute — whose members operate 40,000 retail food stores across the country — offered a more open-minded approach to food labels. In fact, when Senator Pingree and Senator Blumenthal revealed their new draft bill on labeling measures in June, executives from the food chains Nestle and the Campbell Soup Company showed their support for the bill and stood behind the Senators at a press conference in DC.

Though food companies’ decision to use date labels would remain voluntary if the Pingree-Blumenthal bill were to pass, this would still be a tremendous step in the right direction for America. The bill would create a uniform national standard for any labels in which “best if used by” would indicate food quality and “expires on” would warn that the food might actually be unsafe after that date passes. The problem of food waste is a bipartisan issue, one that is both relatable and easily solvable. It also would have a tremendous economic impact, as the proposed bill would save the average American family something close to $1,500 per year.

You can take action now to stop the US’ Food Waste Problem: Sign this petition urging Congress to pass Rep. Pingree’s Food Recovery Act: https://www.change.org/p/paul-ryan-pass-the-food-recovery-act-to-fight-food-waste-and-hunger

For more information see:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/food-waste-date-labels-chellie-pingree_us_576a8deee4b0c0252e77c263
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0007940
https://pingree.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/introducing-commonsense-bill-standardaize-food-date-labelng
https://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/blumenthal-pingree-introduce-commonsense-bill-to-standardize-food-date-labeling

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