In May 2018, FE looked at food loss and waste in the supply chain, and the numbers were staggering. In North America, 168 million metric tons of food are wasted every year with Americans on average squandering 915 pounds per person. However, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, 40% of America’s food supply goes uneaten.

The GAO report, “Food Loss and Waste: Building on Existing Federal Efforts Could Help to Achieve National Reduction Goal,” identifies three key areas in which challenges exist to reducing food loss and waste (FLW). These are:

  1. Limited data and information about FLW
  2. Lack of awareness and education about FLW
  3. Limited infrastructure and capacity

While the causes of FLW vary across each stage of the food supply chain, the share of total FLW due to each of these causes is currently unknown. However, the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency have taken initial actions to address key challenges to reducing FLW in the U.S. since announcing a national goal in 2015 to reduce FLW by 50% by 2030.

These actions include conducting a study to identify gaps in information about farm-level FLW and building public awareness about ways to reduce FLW.

EPA, USDA and FDA each internally have taken some action to plan and organize their efforts toward achieving the national FLW reduction goal. In October 2018, EPA, USDA and FDA signed an interagency agreement, committing to developing a strategic plan to improve collaboration and coordination in reducing FLW.

In April 2019, the agencies announced a strategic plan with prioritized action levels to reduce FLW, but this plan does not address how to incorporate key practices for interagency collaboration that GAO identified, including agreeing on roles and responsibilities; developing mechanisms to monitor, evaluate and report on results; clearly defining short- and long-term outcomes; identifying how leadership commitment will be sustained; and ensuring that the relevant stakeholders have been included.

While the EPA is primarily concerned with what to do with the waste once it’s generated, and the FDA’s role is limited, the USDA has assumed a greater role in reaching from federal to state and local levels to reduce FLW. For example, some of these roles include issuing guidance outlining the best practices to minimize waste for donated commodities, working with local and municipal governments to implement compost and food waste reduction plans, establishing a milk product donation program, and establishing a Local Agriculture Market Program to promote new business opportunities and marketing strategies to reduce on-farm food waste.

National problem, local solutions

While the federal government can only do so much to reduce FLW, state and local governments and businesses are playing important roles.

For example, as reported in a recent “RecyclingWorks” newsletter, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s commercial food waste disposal ban applies to—and requires—1,700 businesses and institutions generating more than one ton of food waste per week to divert the material from disposal.

Supported by statewide technical assistance, the ban has encouraged these entities to implement new food rescue strategies, from donation to source separation for composting and anaerobic digestion.

Since the ban was implemented, annual food waste diversion increased by 180,000 tons, food donation increased 22%, and those entities receiving separate food waste collection increased 70%.

New companies have formed with a mission to rescue food. A slightly misshapen apple or squash tastes the same as a perfectly shaped one, so why do we throw out the “ugly” fruit or vegetable? That’s what Evan Lutz, CEO and cofounder, asked when he started his Hungry Harvest company in his dorm room in college.

Since then, he has appeared on Shark Tank and in a TEDx forum to explain his company’s mission of making it possible for people in poor neighborhoods to afford healthier food. Lutz is not alone in helping to solve the “ugly” food problem.

Abhi Ramesh of North Philadelphia had a similar vision and started Misfits Market to help organic farmers sell—rather than throw out—cosmetically imperfect food that would have otherwise been destined for the pig farm or compost.

Speaking of pork, Smithfield Foods—and many food and beverage companies—have ongoing programs to contribute products to food banks or similar public services or charities. Not only is this a way to help people who are food insecure, it’s also a good reflection on a company’s corporate identity.

To read the GAO report, search the internet for GAO-19-391.