Rep. Pingree introduces landmark Food Recovery Act helps feed America by reducing food waste

Congresswomen Cheillie Pingree on her farm in Maine.

By Ramona du Houx

Maine ranks 12th in the nation in food insecurity with one in four children going hungry everyday while there is good food being trashed. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has started the ball moving to solve the problem for Maine, and the nation.

On December 7, 2015 at the Portland Food Co-Op, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced her bill, at the Portland Co-op, to reduce the amount of food that is wasted each year in the United States.  That piece of legislation, The Food Recovery Act, includes nearly two-dozen provisions to reduce food waste across the economy.

“I am hoping desperately that this gets the conversation going in Washington. 40 percent of all food produced in the United States each year is wasted," said Pingree. 

  • America increased food waste in 2010 by 16 percent as 33.79 million tons of food were wasted that year - enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times.
  • Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the methane gas that is created at is decomposes.
  • A single restaurant in the U.S. can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in a year, according to the Green Restaurant Association.

Somerset County is a rural district with many farms, like the one above in Solon, Maine. People here would benifit from the Food Recovery Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“Every day, we needlessly waste a staggering amount of perfectly good food and the general public doesn’t even know it’s happening,” said Sarah Lakeman, Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Congresswoman Pingree added, "The Food Recovery Act takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and at the same time reducing the number of Americans who have a hard time putting food on the table."

Pingree's bill targets wasted food in four areas:

  1. at the consumer level,
  2. in grocery stores and restaurants,
  3. in schools and other institutions,
  4. and on the farm.

"Wasted food costs us over $160 billion a year in this country," said Pingree.  "That works out to about $125 a month for a family of four. We can save money and feed more Americans if we reduce the amount of food that ends up getting sent to landfills."

Pingree’s bill would provide new tax deductions for diverting unwanted food to food banks and using inedible food scraps, such as banana peels and eggshells, for compost.

The bill also provides grant funding to help schools and public institutions make better connections with local farms, including using lower-priced fruits and vegetables that aren’t deemed pretty enough to sell commercially. These “ugly” fruits and vegetables are often trashed when they hold as much value in their nutrients and vitamins as their manikin cousins. The problem has been that farmers don’t have the resources to take the “ugly” fruits and vegetables to food banks or educational institutions. It’s time consuming, so they trash tons of good food, daily. The proposed tax deductions should turn this catastrophe around.

Pingree was joined by dozens of people representing groups and organizations from throughout Maine. 

Restaurants often toss scraps into the garbage adding to landfills. But any scrap that is biodegradable can and could be reclaimed by the earth — by composting it. Then that compost will be rich in nutrients to put on gardens in the spring. Some restaurants compost and have their own gardens, like Pingree’s own restaurant. The tax-deductions in her bill would give more restaurants the incentive to compost.

 "Wasting food is bad for the economy, bad for the environment and bad for Americans who are struggling to afford healthy food to feed their families. Congresswoman Pingree is a national leader on sustainable food and farming and I’m glad she’s taking on this huge issue of wasted food," said celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Food Policy Action and owner/chef of Crafted Hospitality.

Pingree’s bill clarifies that “sell-by” dates on food are only manufacturer suggestions, not dates required by the federal government, which most people assume they are. Those “sell-by” dates do not mean the food is unsafe to eat after that date.

The irony of the current system is that farmers, restaurants, and supermarkets all want to feed people. But in all these businesses there is unintentional food waste.

“Connecting farmers to hungry people through incentives to donate food, and recycling waste food when it is no longer usable closes the loop in the system rather than contributing to the conventional linear waste stream,” said Ted Quaday, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

“This groundbreaking legislation offers assistance to farmers and retailers, supports food recovery organizations, and helps consumers by clarifying the senseless date labels that appear on foods. It thus achieves many of the goals our clinic has advocated over the past few years and we are thrilled to work in support of its passage,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. 

Hannah Semler, of Healthy Acadia's Gleaning Program in Hancock County wrote a statement of support for the legislation."In Maine, and throughout the U.S. as well as other parts of the world, managing excess food from farms is becoming a pathway to food security. Healthy Acadia sees the integration of food waste reduction strategies as a quality management concern for food business, schools, hospitals, food pantries, and household economics. We expect many synergies to come from the Food Recovery Act… and we are grateful to be a part of the conversation.”

Winterberry Farm in the winter, photo by Ramona du Houx