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A number of federal laws and policies strive to enhance food recovery, yet many fail to address the needs facing the evolving landscape of food donation.

A new report released from the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council provides a road map 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 offers 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 dual issues of food waste and food insecurity facing the United States.

For example, if an entire manufacturing run of yogurt has a misprint with the wrong number of ounces on it, currently a company would not benefit from the liability protections or tax incentives meant to encourage food donation unless every container is re-labeled. These types of hurdles do nothing to protect consumers and everything to discourage food donations. Fortunately, simple changes to federal policy can reduce these senseless barriers.

Don’t Waste, Donate offers 16 actionable recommendations spanning 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:

1.    Enhance liability protections for food donations
2.    Improve federal tax incentives for food donations
3.    Standardize and clarify expiration date labels
4.    Better monitor and encourage food donation by federal agencies
5.    Modernize and clarify food safety guidance for food donations

The report also includes an appendix targeting recommendations directly to Congress, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“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.”

Legislators and industry have already taken steps to implement some of the recommendations in the report. For example, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the two largest trade groups for the grocery industry, recently launched a nationwide voluntary standard for retailers and manufacturers to streamline date labels on consumer-facing food packages. Don’t Waste, Donate explains why standard date labels can impact donations of safe past-date foods, and how the federal government can go further to enshrine these voluntary standards. Bipartisan federal legislation recently was 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 by the Food Law and Policy Clinic and NRDC in Don’t Waste, Donate.

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. And more than 42 million Americans, including 13.1 million children, lacked access to a sufficient amount of food to lead an active, healthy lifestyle in 2015.

Published in the April 2017 Edition of American Recycler News