One-third of food produced across the globe is lost or wasted. Yet global hunger persists at crisis levels, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lost or wasted food ends up in landfills, where it rots and produces greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change.
As we mark International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste and national leaders conclude the UN Food System Summit, here are six actionable, real-world solutions that can help policy makers address climate change and food waste while redirecting surplus food to people experiencing hunger in their country.
1. Clarify and standardize food date labeling.Date labels on food products can be a major driver of food waste and an obstacle to food donation. It is not always clear whether the date label accompanied by language such as “sell by,” “expires on,” or “best by” relates to food safety. In fact, date labels are generally intended to reflect freshness or quality rather than food safety for the vast majority of foods. Despite this fact, food donations are often not accepted if the food is donated past its expiration date.
The United Kingdom addressed this by mandating standardized date labels to clarify between safety and quality as well as launching a consumer education campaign that included the meaning of date labels plus how to donate safe past-date food.
2. Publish and widely distribute guidance about safety procedures for donated food.A key barrier to food donation can be the lack of knowledge or readily available guidance about safety procedures for donated food. Potential donors are often uncertain about which food safety regulations apply to donated food and the steps necessary to comply.
Singapore responded to this by issuing robust guidance on food safety for food donations, detailing clear instructions on handling donated food.
3. Establish liability protection for food donations.Another significant barrier to food donation is the fear among donors that they will be found liable if someone becomes sick after consuming donated food. The majority of countries do not currently offer liability protections for food donors. However, even in countries that have adopted liability protections to mitigate this concern, many food donors and food recovery organizations are uncertain as to whether they are eligible for this protection, whether there are actions required to maintain the protection, and what limits, if any, apply.
Argentina, for example, enacted a national law in 2018 which provides comprehensive civil and/or criminal liability protections for both food donors and food recovery organizations.
4. Create tax incentives and eliminate tax barriers.
Transportation and storage costs are often cited as the main expenses that manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants need to overcome to donate food. Tax incentives, including deductions or credits, can help to offset these financial inputs and help make donation a more attractive, affordable option. The application of certain taxes to donated food, such as the value-added tax (VAT), however, can also create a barrier to donation.
For example, Colombia created a tax credit for food donation that offset the costs associated with donation and eliminated taxes on donated food.
5. Institute donation requirements or food waste penalties.
Some countries have employed food donation requirements or impose monetary penalties for food that is sent to landfills (often known as organic waste bans or waste taxes) in order to influence business behavior and promote more sustainable food systems.
Peru addressed this by enacting the Food Donation Law, which includes a donation requirement for food storage facilities and supermarkets.
6. Create government grants and incentives.
Grants and incentive programs funded at the national or local level offer vital resources to grow food donation initiatives. This is particularly true in countries where donors consider tax incentives to be insufficient to offset the costs of donation or where a lack of infrastructure limits food recovery efforts.
The United States, for example, provides generous grants and annual funding for food loss/waste prevention and food recovery promotion.
These best practices, which can be found in The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas, provide guidance for national leaders focused on mitigating food waste and climate change while addressing hunger. The Atlas, produced by the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and The Global FoodBanking Network, examines food donation laws and policies in countries around the world and includes Legal Guides and Policy Recommendations developed with in-country partners.