Last year the USDA released a food waste report with some sobering statistics, including the fact that in 2010, 31 percent (133 billion pounds) of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer level went uneaten. Recognizing that this is a problem for food security and for the environment, the USDA and the EPA recently announced the first national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50 percent reduction by 2030.
"Let's feed people, not landfills. By reducing wasted food in landfills, we cut harmful methane emissions that fuel climate change, conserve our natural resources, and protect our planet for future generations" said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "Today's announcement presents a major environmental, social and public health opportunity for the U.S., and we're proud to be part of a national effort to reduce the food that goes into landfills."
The federal government will partner with charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments to achieve the 50 percent reduction goal. While this is the first time the federal government has released specific goals for reducing food waste, the USDA has implemented some initiatives in the past few years that have addressed the subject including the U.S. Food Waste Challenge in 2013. The challenge invited “producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies” to reduce the amount of food they wasted. By the end of 2014, the challenge had 4,000 active participants.
The USDA also released the FoodKeeper App to to inform users on "how to store food and beverages to maximize their freshness and quality." While the app has some confusing recommendations, its creation was an acknowledgement that consumers throw out perfectly good food because they are unclear how long food is safe and need some guidance to demystify the arbitrary use-by and sell-by dates manufacturers put on products.
One of the new initiatives to help reduce food waste is Let's Talk Trash, a new section on ChooseMyPlate that will educate consumers about reducing food waste so they won't lose money. There are tips on planning to shop, storing food, and even donating food.
It's great that the federal government is making reducing food waste a priority, setting goals and inviting everyone from the government on down to people in their homes to slash their waste by 50 percent while providing lots of information about how to do that. What I'm not seeing in yesterday's announcement are any specifics about how the government plans to divert the saved food to those who need it most — the food insecure.
The USDA's news release makes a point to say that "experts have projected that reducing food losses by just 15 percent would provide enough food for more than 25 million Americans every year, helping to sharply reduce incidences of food insecurity." I'd like to see more concrete information about how the food that's saved will get into the hands of the hungry.