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Strengthening Food Donation Operations During COVID-19: Key Issues and Best Practices for Governments Around the Globe

A newly-released issue brief from the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and The Global FoodBanking Network guides governments around the globe to leverage food donation operations as a solution to food loss, waste, and hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

More than one year after the rapid onset and global spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, demand at food banks around the world remains at an all-time high. Rising global food prices, compounded by pandemic-related job losses and inadequate social protections have forced an estimated 119 to 124 million additional people to slip into extreme poverty and created profound risks of food insecurity and hunger. Meanwhile, one third of the total food production is wasted annually. Food banks and food recovery organizations have helped to address both of these issues during (and long before) the pandemic—recovering and redirecting safe, wholesome food that would otherwise be wasted for immediate hunger relief, particularly for the most vulnerable.

Recognizing that food banks and food recovery organizations provide an essential social safety net and solution to food loss, waste, and insecurity, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) have advocated for governments around the world to recognize food donation operations as their own class of “first responders.” In June 2020, FLPC and GFN published an issue brief, Strengthening Food Donation Operations During COVID-19: Key Issues and Best Practices for Governments Around the Globe, advising governments on policy approaches for leveraging food donation operations as part of the pandemic emergency response. This brief was released as part of The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas, a partnership between FLPC and GFN to analyze and advance laws and policies relevant to food donation around the world. One year later, FLPC and GFN have revisited the question of whether governments are effectively supporting food donation operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 issue brief considers the progress made by governments in bolstering food donation during the pandemic though strategic policy change, pursuant to the best practices set forth in 2020 by FLPC and GFN. For example, consistent with the recommendation to formally recognize food banks as essential service providers, the updated brief reveals how countries like Canada have successfully utilized tailored legislation and national food strategies to meaningfully incorporate food donation and redistribution into emergency response. The brief also considers new and urgent policy opportunities to build stronger partnerships between governments, food banks, and food recovery operations, such as establishing multi-sectoral coordination groups, encouraging novel public-private partnerships, and leveraging national government support to build capacity at the state and municipal level.

The illustrative case studies featured in the new publication reflect insights shared during a virtual forum hosted by FLPC and GFN in January 2021, Exploring Global Policy Solutions to Increase Food Donation and Support Food Recovery During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond. This meeting convened select government officials, representatives of intergovernmental organizations, and food bank leaders to explore how governments have worked with food donation operations to help mitigate hunger and food waste amidst the ongoing pandemic. Surveys of GFN’s member and affiliate organizations in more than 40 countries also informed the best practices, as well as remaining challenges, described in the new issue brief. Nearly one year into the global pandemic, for example, 78% of surveyed food banks reported that their countries remained in a state of food emergency and reported ongoing strains on operations.

Along with FLPC’s publication of legal guides and policy recommendations for 14 countries under the Atlas project to date, this updated issue brief adds to the resources available for policymakers seeking to address issues of food loss, waste, and hunger through greater donation. Governments and private sector actors should pursue policies that position food donation as a vehicle for securing food access and greater food system resilience, both during the pandemic and in the subsequent period of recovery.

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