- The House Committee on Agriculture recently released H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill, which has the potential to affect organic waste policy in multiple areas.
- The bill changes funding levels for some grants related to waste management programs in rural areas. It also appropriates funding for biorefining projects, and extends technical assistance programs for rural waste management programs by adding that such programs should "identify options to enhance long term sustainability of rural water and waste systems."
- As written, the bill would also establish a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison within the office of the Secretary of Agriculture. The liaison would be responsible for coordinating federal projects and goals which are aimed at reducing food waste and for educating the public and other entities that are looking to reduce food waste.
While in large part a spending bill, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says H.R. 2 would have a minimum impact on overall federal spending. It doesn't have the kind of budget-expanding numbers some departments see, but the farm bill still provides vital funding for rural waste management projects, which can be prohibitively expensive to start from scratch.
More notable than routine spending and grant programs, however, is the establishment of a dedicated position within the federal government, which focuses exclusively on food waste and food loss prevention. The food waste liaison would be tasked with sharing information across government agencies and working to reduce food waste at the national level.
The last time food waste got much attention from the federal government was in 2015, when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture announced a voluntary goal of 50% reduction by 2030.
The full mandate of the liaison runs from coordinating the implementation of food waste reduction programs between USDA, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration; educating and being a resource for those interested in food waste reduction; drawing special attention to the protections enumerated under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act; and making recommendations to expand food recovery efforts. The liaison may enter agreements with government research entities, institutions of higher education or nonprofits to produce material, lead workshops or conduct research.
As with many positions in the government, while the successes of the food waste liaison will largely depend on who fills the spot (and whether other officials in other agencies are willing to cooperate), it undeniably brings focus to the issue. The numbers behind food waste show it remains a critical issue, with some increase in consumer awareness, but one that hasn't fully been addressed by state and local policymakers. Food is wasted at every level (including $15 billion-worth at farms), so national coordination could be useful in developing more effective strategies.
Emily Broad Leib, director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, said the liaison "represents a step in the right direction," but "we hoped to see more, and will continue to work with members of Congress to understand the importance of food waste reduction and these key ways that the farm bill can make a difference in this fight."
Though aside from this position, the current farm bill text doesn't go as far as many had hoped. A bill which would establish a national food waste policy is still sitting in committee. The bill would have given a boost to AD that uses food waste as a feedstock; encouraged schools to purchase "ugly" produce; standardized date labels; expanded protection under the Good Samaritan Act; and required studies about increasing the shelf life of food.