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Pingree, Newhouse Introduce House Bill to Standardize Food Date Labels, Cut Food Waste

Washington, August 1, 2019

Pingree, Newhouse Introduce House Bill to Standardize Food Date Labels, Cut Food Waste

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) today introduced the bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act, a bill designed to end consumer confusion around food date labeling and ensure Americans do not throw out perfectly good food. Studies have shown that Americans are confused by food date labels, resulting in a significant amount of edible food ending up in landfills. H.R. 3981 will reduce food waste by standardizing date labels on food products.

“Estimates indicate that around 90% of Americans prematurely throw out perfectly safe food, in part because of confusion about what date labels mean, meanwhile 38.4 million Americans are food insecure,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, co-chair of the Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus. “This bill is an opportunity for the federal government to reduce confusion across the food supply chain and make sure no one is going hungry or inadvertently hurting our environment. With this piece of legislation, we can help ensure food is being used and eaten, rather than thrown out due to confusion.”

“Food labeling is important for consumer education, but the current practice is confusing and outdated. This bill takes a step toward reducing food waste by helping consumers understand the meaning behind date labels. The legislation also helps restaurants and grocery stores bridge the gap when it comes to donating food to shelters, food banks and other charitable organizations. I am proud to serve with Representative Pingree as co-chair of the Food Recovery Caucus as we work to help Americans waste less and save money,” said Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Washington).

“Most Americans don’t know the ‘best by’ date label on items at the grocery store aren’t based on safety or science. These completely arbitrary food date labels are confusing and costly for customers. Our commonsense measure to establish a uniform national date labeling system would provide consumers with clarity—helping them save money on their grocery bills and preventing perfectly safe food from going to waste,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) who has introduced the Senate companion bill.

At present, 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. The Pingree-Newhouse 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% of U.S. land use, 80% of fresh water consumption, and 10% 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 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 in June. Another GAO report focused on food date labeling will be published this fall.

INDUSTRY AND ADVOCACY STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR THE FOOD DATE LABELING ACT

Kristen Miale, President of Good Shepherd Food Bank: “Good Shepherd Food Bank supports this effort to improve date labels on food items.  By making it easier for people to understand how long a food item may be safely eaten, this legislation will prevent all families from unnecessarily throwing away consumable food.”  

Sustainable Food Policy Alliance: “Representative Pingree and Representative Newhouse’s proposal to streamline dates on food labels is a common sense approach to fight food waste by providing consistent and clear definitions for quality and safety dates. Wasting wholesome, safe food harms consumers’ budgets and the environment, yet the problem is often preventable. Importantly, their bill would eliminate a patchwork of different state laws regarding date labels and would make it easier for food banks to receive donations. The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance applauds this legislation and thanks Representative Pingree and Representative Newhouse for their hard work.”

Hannah Semler, Whole Crops / FarmDrop.us: “Congresswoman Pingree's efforts on food loss and waste are leading the country in a new direction around food resourcefulness and economic efficiency. Families deserve to know when food is good to eat, rather than wasting hard earned money because of confusing and sometimes misleading date labeling. The work being done in Washington, led by the Congresswoman and her team, is the right thing to do in support of customers' right to precise information on when product is good to eat, and when it should be used, frozen or thrown out.”

Chris Hood, President, Kellogg North America: “We applaud Representative Pingree and Representative Newhouse for their leadership to standardize product code date labels to provide greater clarity and reduce consumer confusion that can often lead to unnecessary food waste. As part of our next-generation Kellogg’s® Better Days commitment, we pledged to reduce organic waste by 50 percent, including food waste, across our facilities. Kellogg is committed to doing our part to combat food waste and to empower our consumers with information to make informed decisions.”

Jackie Suggitt, Stakeholder Engagement Director, ReFED: “Standardized date labeling is one of the most cost-effective solutions for driving reductions in wasted food, and a significant amount of groundwork has been laid. However, there continue to be barriers to adoption for food manufacturers, including highly varied state-level requirements around both the date label language and the ability to donate food past the labeled date. ReFED supports federal policy efforts that overcome these barriers and accelerate food waste reduction.”

Elizabeth Balkan, Food Waste Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): “Tons of perfectly good food and money is trashed every day because of confusing date labels. That adds up to a staggering amount of climate pollution, wasted water, and missed opportunities to feed people in need. By standardizing food date labels nationwide and educating people about what they mean, this legislation will help reduce this unnecessary waste.”

Emily Broad Leib, Director, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic: “Our years of research on date labels have shown that confusion over these labels is one of the leading causes of food waste in the U.S. 84% of consumers throw food away after the date, even though for most foods the date is just an indicator of quality or taste. Fortunately, this is also one of the most solvable issues – standard date labels that distinguish between quality dates and discard dates can make clear what these dates mean and help reduce waste at businesses, households, and food banks. I am thrilled to see the leadership Rep. Pingree has taken in introducing this commonsense legislation that can make it easier to reduce food waste and make sure safe, wholesome food gets eaten.”

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League: “NCL supports Representative Pingree and Representative Newhouse for their bold leadership to prevent the epidemic of  food waste.”

Regina Anderson, Executive Director, Food Recovery Network: “Forty percent of all food produced in America is wasted, while at the same time, one in six of our neighbors is unsure where her next meal will come from. Food is wasted on farms, throughout the supply chain, by consumers and by institutions. Since 2011, Food Recovery Network's student leaders have safely recovered and packaged more than 3.9 million pounds of perfectly good food that would have otherwise gone to waste from college and university campuses and donated it to community members in need. In addition to providing these millions of meals to people and not to landfills, students have raised the profile of food waste and hunger as major issues with practical solutions. At a grassroots level, FRN's work has educated countless people on the negative effects of wasting food, while providing a scalable model that fits the needs of diverse communities across the country.”  

Jostein Solheim, EVP, Foods & Refreshment, Unilever North America: “Unilever applauds Representatives Chellie Pingree and Dan Newhouse’s legislation to reduce food waste by streamlining dates on food labels and providing consistent and clear definitions for quality and safety dates, amongst other food waste reduction initiatives. Unilever has already voluntarily implemented the date labelling on its food and refreshment products. Codifying this into law will help with consumer confusion and lead to less food waste. We believe that it is important to address food waste for environmental and social benefits, and this bill is an important step in the right direction.”

Carrie Calvert, Managing Director, Agriculture & Nutrition Government Relations, Feeding America: “Date labeling is a confusing issue, and contributes not only to the amount of food consumers waste each year, but to confusion from businesses, nonprofits, and individuals when they want to donate excess food to those in need.  Feeding America commends Representatives Pingree and Newhouse for leading the way on this issue and proposing a solution that would help not only increase the amount of food safely donated, but would also help consumers save money and throw out less food.”

Pete Pearson, Senior Director, Food Loss and Waste, World Wildlife Fund: “The private sector can play a central role reducing food waste with improved date labeling, measurement, and public transparency. We welcome this bill, and are eager to see progress accelerated.”

Terri J. Raymond, MA, RDN, LD, FAND, President, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Food waste is one of the most pressing challenges of our time and one that is solvable. Registered dietitian nutritionists, particularly those who are members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are in a unique position: We can influence both consumer and institutional habits related to food safety and waste. This legislation will standardize date labeling for quality and safety across products and will educate the public on the new labeling system. This is a necessary step in addressing waste throughout the country's entire food supply."

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