Last week Central Washington’s Dan Newhouse and Maine’s Chellie Pingree introduced legislation they say will ensure Americans don’t throw out perfectly good food. They said the bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act, will reduce food waste by standardizing date labels on food products.
Recent studies have shown that Americans are confused by food date labels, resulting in a significant amount of edible food ending up in landfills. The hope is H.R. 3981 will eliminate much of that waste. Currently, there are no federal regulations related to date labels on food products, aside from infant formula. Date labeling regulations are left up to states, which means consumers are left trying to sort out a patchwork of what the two lawmakers called, confounding terms such as “Sell by,” “use by,” “freshest on,” and “expires on”.
“Estimates indicate that around 90% of Americans prematurely throw out perfectly safe food, in part because of confusion about what date labels mean, meanwhile 38.4 million Americans are food insecure,”said Pingree. “This bill is an opportunity for the federal government to reduce confusion across the food supply chain and make sure no one is going hungry or inadvertently hurting our environment. With this piece of legislation, we can help ensure food is being used and eaten, rather than thrown out due to confusion.”
Representatives Pingree and Newhouse serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Food Recovery Caucus.
“Food labeling is important for consumer education, but the current practice is confusing and outdated. This bill takes a step toward reducing food waste by helping consumers understand the meaning behind date labels. The legislation also helps restaurants and grocery stores bridge the gap when it comes to donating food to shelters, food banks and other charitable organizations. I am proud to serve with Representative Pingree as co-chair of the Food Recovery Caucus as we work to help Americans waste less and save money,” Newhouse added.
“Most Americans don’t know the ‘best by’ date label on items at the grocery store aren’t based on safety or science. These completely arbitrary food date labels are confusing and costly for customers. Our commonsense measure to establish a uniform national date labeling system would provide consumers with clarity—helping them save money on their grocery bills and preventing perfectly safe food from going to waste,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal who has introduced the Senate companion bill.
The Pingree-Newhouse legislation will also allow food to be sold or donated after its labeled quality date, helping more perfectly good food reach those who need it.
40% of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted, costing our nation $161 billion annually. It is estimated that if all food waste represented an individual country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally. Domestic food production accounts for 50% of U.S. land use, 80% of fresh water consumption, and 10% of our total energy budget. Consequently, recovering food helps to ensure that the hard work and resources that go into producing food is not wasted.
Industry and advocacy statements of support for the Food Date Labeling Act:
Sustainable Food Policy Alliance: “Representative Pingree and Representative Newhouse’s proposal to streamline dates on food labels is a commonsense approach to fight food waste by providing consistent and clear definitions for quality and safety dates. Wasting wholesome, safe food harms consumers’ budgets and the environment, yet the problem is often preventable. Importantly, their bill would eliminate a patchwork of different state laws regarding date labels and would make it easier for food banks to receive donations. The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance applauds this legislation and thanks Representative Pingree and Representative Newhouse for their hard work.”
Chris Hood, President, Kellogg North America: “We applaud Representative Pingree and Representative Newhouse for their leadership to standardize product code date labels to provide greater clarity and reduce consumer confusion that can often lead to unnecessary food waste. As part of our next-generation Kellogg’s® Better Days commitment, we pledged to reduce organic waste by 50 percent, including food waste, across our facilities. Kellogg is committed to doing our part to combat food waste and to empower our consumers with information to make informed decisions.”
Jackie Suggitt, Stakeholder Engagement Director, ReFED: “Standardized date labeling is one of the most cost-effective solutions for driving reductions in wasted food, and a significant amount of groundwork has been laid. However, there continue to be barriers to adoption for food manufacturers, including highly varied state-level requirements around both the date label language and the ability to donate food past the labeled date. ReFED supports federal policy efforts that overcome these barriers and accelerate food waste reduction.”
Emily Broad Leib, Director, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic: “Our years of research on date labels have shown that confusion over these labels is one of the leading causes of food waste in the U.S. 84% of consumers throw food away after the date, even though for most foods the date is just an indicator of quality or taste. Fortunately, this is also one of the most solvable issues – standard date labels that distinguish between quality dates and discard dates can make clear what these dates mean and help reduce waste at businesses, households, and food banks. I am thrilled to see the leadership Rep. Pingree has taken in introducing this commonsense legislation that can make it easier to reduce food waste and make sure safe, wholesome food gets eaten.”
Regina Anderson, Executive Director, Food Recovery Network: “Forty percent of all food produced in America is wasted, while at the same time, one in six of our neighbors is unsure where her next meal will come from. Food is wasted on farms, throughout the supply chain, by consumers and by institutions. Since 2011, Food Recovery Network’s student leaders have safely recovered and packaged more than 3.9 million pounds of perfectly good food that would have otherwise gone to waste from college and university campuses and donated it to community members in need. In addition to providing these millions of meals to people and not to landfills, students have raised the profile of food waste and hunger as major issues with practical solutions. At a grassroots level, FRN’s work has educated countless people on the negative effects of wasting food, while providing a scalable model that fits the needs of diverse communities across the country.”
Jostein Solheim, EVP, Foods & Refreshment, Unilever North America: “Unilever applauds Representatives Chellie Pingree and Dan Newhouse’s legislation to reduce food waste by streamlining dates on food labels and providing consistent and clear definitions for quality and safety dates, amongst other food waste reduction initiatives. Unilever has already voluntarily implemented the date labelling on its food and refreshment products. Codifying this into law will help with consumer confusion and lead to less food waste. We believe that it is important to address food waste for environmental and social benefits, and this bill is an important step in the right direction.”
Carrie Calvert, Managing Director, Agriculture & Nutrition Government Relations, Feeding America: “Date labeling is a confusing issue, and contributes not only to the amount of food consumers waste each year, but to confusion from businesses, nonprofits, and individuals when they want to donate excess food to those in need. Feeding America commends Representatives Pingree and Newhouse for leading the way on this issue and proposing a solution that would help not only increase the amount of food safely donated, but would also help consumers save money and throw out less food.”
Terri J. Raymond, MA, RDN, LD, FAND, President, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Food waste is one of the most pressing challenges of our time and one that is solvable. Registered dietitian nutritionists, particularly those who are members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are in a unique position: We can influence both consumer and institutional habits related to food safety and waste. This legislation will standardize date labeling for quality and safety across products and will educate the public on the new labeling system. This is a necessary step in addressing waste throughout the country’s entire food supply.”
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