This press release was originally published by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree on December 7, 2021.
The Food Date Labeling Act aims to end consumer confusion around food date labeling and ensure Americans don’t prematurely throw away food.
U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today reintroduced the bipartisan, bicameral Food Date Labeling Act, a bill designed to end consumer confusion around food date labeling and ensure Americans do not feel it is necessary to throw out safe, useable food. Studies have shown that Americans are confused by food date labels, resulting in a significant amount of edible food ending up in landfills. The Food Date Labeling Act will reduce food waste by standardizing date labels on food products.
“It’s estimated that around 90 percent of Americans prematurely throw out perfectly safe food, in part because of confusion about what date labels mean. Meanwhile, more than 38 million Americans—including 12 million children—are food insecure, the climate crisis is worsening by the day, and our economy is losing billions every year due to food waste. This staggering waste is not only unacceptable—it’s avoidable,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, co-chair of the Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus. “Our current food labeling practices are outdated, confusing, and completely arbitrary. The Food Date Labeling Act gives us an opportunity at the federal level to ensure food is being used and eaten, rather than being thrown out.”
“To allow confusing food labeling practices to contribute to unnecessary food waste is absurd – especially when there are tens of millions of Americans experiencing food insecurity. This is a common sense solution to a pervasive problem, and as co-chair of the Food Recovery Caucus, I am proud to partner with Rep. Pingree and Sen. Blumenthal to reintroduce this legislation which will reform outdated labeling practices, reduce food waste, and help Americans save money,” said Congressman Newhouse.
“This bill will help prevent perfectly safe food from going to waste simply because of confusing labeling. Nearly half of our country’s food gets thrown out each year while millions of Americans go hungry and the climate crisis worsens,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The Food Date Labeling Act would create a uniform food date label that gives consumers a clear understanding of when food is still safe to eat—helping keep good food out of landfills and on Americans’ plates.”
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 confounding terms. “Sell by,” “use by,” “freshest on,” and “expires on” are just a few of the phrases currently being used on food products. The bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act establishes an easily understood food date labeling system—“BEST If Used By” communicates to consumers that the quality of the food product may begin to deteriorate after the date and “USE By” communicates the end of the estimated period of shelf life, after which the product should not be consumed. Under the legislation, food manufacturers will decide which food products carry a quality date or a discard date. This 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.
Forty percent 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 percent of U.S. land use, 80 percent of freshwater consumption, and 10 percent 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.
Pingree has long recognized that food waste reduction is a win-win, bringing both environmental and economic benefits. Pingree first introduced a version of the date labeling bill, as well as the more comprehensive Food Recovery Act, in the 113th Congress. In the spring of 2018, she launched Congress’s first-ever Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus with former Congressman David Young (R-Iowa), on which she currently serves as co-chair with Congressman Newhouse. The 2018 Farm Bill included her provisions to create the first full-time food loss and waste reduction liaison at USDA, a composting and food waste reduction pilot program, as well as the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) to reduce on-farm waste.
Following a request for study made by Pingree and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in October 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report with recommendations on how the federal government can expand its efforts to reduce food waste. Another GAO report focused on food date labeling was published in 2019.
Provisions to standardize food date labeling to reduce consumer confusion are also included in Pingree and Senator Martin Heinrich’s (D-N.M) Agriculture Resilience Act, which was reintroduced in April 2021.
In September 2021, Pingree, Newhouse, and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) reintroduced the bipartisan School Food Recovery Act, which would create a new program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support schools working on food waste reduction projects.
INDUSTRY AND ADVOCACY STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR THE FOOD DATE LABELING ACT
Emily Broad Leib, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic: “Clarifying and standardizing date label language is one of the most cost-effective and commonsense methods to reduce the 40% of food that goes to waste each year in the United States. Action at the federal level will help ensure that businesses and consumers alike can use and understand date labels more effectively, standardizing these labels across food products and around the country in order to reduce food that ends up in landfill and encourage more donation of safe surplus food. I am thrilled to see the leadership that Representatives Pingree and Newhouse and Senator Blumenthal have taken by introducing the Food Date Labeling Act as a vehicle to address both hunger and environmental impacts of food waste.”
Yvette Cabrera, Director of Food Waste, Natural Resources Defense Council: “Date label confusion is a leading cause of food waste in the U.S. The Food Date Labeling Act would standardize date labels, build consumer awareness around them, and make donating safe food easier. This low-cost solution would keep money in people’s pockets and food on people’s plates instead of in landfills, where it produces greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”
Herrish Patel, Executive Vice President, Foods & Refreshment, Unilever North America: “On behalf of Hellmann’s, we greatly appreciate your leadership introducing the Food Date Labeling Act. We are committed to helping reduce the 54 million tons of food that go to waste every year in the United States. This bipartisan, bicameral solution will help to do just that while eliminating the patchwork of state laws that confuse consumers, increase food waste, and reduce the availability of safe foods for donation to food insecure Americans. Hellmann’s is committed to inspiring more than 100 million people around the world to waste less food each year through consumer education, policy advocacy, and strategic philanthropy. This effort is part of a larger commitment to help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. As food manufacturers, we believe this bill is an important and simple step to address food waste and eliminate consumer confusion in America.” Click here to read Patel’s full letter of support.
Pete Pearson, Senior Director, Food Waste, World Wildlife Fund: “In the US, it’s estimated that 30-40 percent of our food supply is lost or wasted. At the same time, the footprint of agriculture continues to expand, threatening the last remaining biodiverse regions on our planet; places like the native grasslands of the Northern Great Plains.When we waste food, we waste the land, water, and energy used to produce it. We also generate significant methane emissions as this food decomposes in landfills. We need to conserve our vital resources to ensure future generations inherit a planet where food production and consumption exist in balance with nature. In this context, preventing food waste represents a critical act of conservation.The Food Date Labeling Act along with nationwide consumer education will help ensure more food reaches people who need it, heighten awareness on food waste, and help us all navigate confusing expiration dates so that we can all waste less and save more. This is a win-win for consumers and the environment.