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Responding to Congresswoman Pingree’s Request, GAO Releases Food Date Labeling Report

Washington, September 9, 2019

In response to request for study made by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in October 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued a report which confirmed food date labeling to be a significant source of consumer confusion and subsequently food waste. Pingree praised the report titled “Date Labels on Packaged Foods: USDA and FDA Could Take Additional Steps to Reduce Consumer Confusion,” which recommended that federal agencies coordinate with state and local governments to standardize food date labels.

“40 percent of the food produced in the US is wasted annually. Until we have a federal law that actually standardizes date labeling across all markets, we will not see a significant reduction in consumer confusion or food waste greenhouse gas emissions,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “All stakeholders—local, state, federal, or private sector—must work collaboratively to set and enforce clear labeling standards to reduce food waste.”

The report calls for coordination between federal agencies and other stakeholders such as state, local, and tribal governments on actions related to date labels. GAO also acknowledged that USDA and FDA share oversight of almost the entire food supply, but don't regulate most date labels (besides infant formula) and are not required to do so by federal law. 

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the UN’s body for assessing the science related to climate change—released a report outlining the pressures of climate change on land and agriculture. The IPCC found that around 8 to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are related to food loss from harvest, production, or consumer waste, underscoring the need for all innovative solutions to be considered by the federal government in pursuit of curbing food waste.

Pingree and Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) recently reintroduced 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. 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. H.R. 3981 will reduce food waste by establishing an easily understood food date labeling system.

Pingree is a recognized policy leader on food waste reduction. She launched and currently co-chairs Congress’ first-ever Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus. She sits on the Appropriations Committee and the Agriculture Committee, where she has helped shepherd through programs and funding to reduce food waste. 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. 

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