Pingree, Newhouse, Blumenthal Reintroduce Bicameral Bill to Standardize Food Date Labels, Cut Food Waste
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-Wash.) 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 throw out useable food. Studies have shown that Americans are confused by food date labels, resulting in a significant amount of food ending up in landfills. The Food Date Labeling Act will reduce food waste by standardizing date labels on food products.
“Our current food labeling practices are outdated, confusing, and completely arbitrary, resulting in around 90 percent of Americans prematurely throwing out perfectly safe food. This staggering waste takes a toll on families’ wallets, on the environment, and on the economy,” said Pingree, co-chair of the Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus. “By standardizing the food date labeling system and making labels less confusing for consumers, the bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act will help ensure food is being used and eaten, rather than being thrown out.”
“While we in Central Washington, just like people across the nation, continue to struggle with high prices in the grocery store, an estimated 40 percent of the food production in the U.S. goes to waste. It's important that Americans are not prematurely throwing out safe food—and that starts with bettering our food labeling practices. The Food Date Labeling Act will end the consumer confusion around food date labeling so that we can reduce the amount of food wasted in our nation and allow Americans to save more of their hard-earned money,” said Newhouse.
“This legislation would provide consumers and grocers with a clear, consistent food labeling system,” said Blumenthal. “Current labels lack clarity about when products are safe to eat—discouraging donations and contributing to food waste and insecurity. The Food Date Labeling Act is an important step toward streamlining our labeling process and reducing the 40 percent of our nation’s food supply that is thrown away every year.”
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 bill, food manufacturers can decide which of their products carry a quality date or a discard date. It also allows food to be sold or donated after its labeled quality date, helping more food reach those who need it.
An estimated 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted. Domestic food production accounts for significant land use, water usage, and energy consumption and results in 11% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, recovering food helps reduce climate change and ensures 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 food 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), and currently serves as co-chair with Congressman Newhouse. The 2018 Farm Bill included Pingree’s provisions to create the first full-time food loss and waste reduction liaison at USDA, a composting and food waste reduction pilot program, and 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 March 2023.
INDUSTRY AND ADVOCACY STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR THE FOOD DATE LABELING ACT
Emily Broad Leib, Director, 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.”
Andrea Collins, Senior Specialist of Sustainable Food Systems, Natural Resources Defense Council: "Nearly ten percent of all food waste in the U.S. is caused by confusion about the date label. The bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act would standardize date labels, educate Americans about their meaning, affirm the donation of safe food and, ultimately, make a big dent in America’s food waste problem. Preventing food from going to waste will keep money in the pockets of households and businesses while keeping food on people’s plates instead of going to landfills, where it contributes to climate change."
Herrish Patel, General Manager, Unilever Nutrition North America: “On behalf of Hellmann’s, we greatly appreciate your leadership reintroducing the Food Date Labeling Act. Hellmann’s remains steadfast in our commitment to helping reduce the 54 million tons of food that go to waste every year in the United States and this bipartisan, bicameral solution will help to do just. This bill will eliminate the patchwork of state laws that confuse consumers, increase food waste, and reduce the availability of safe foods for donation to food insecure Americans.
Dana Gunders, Executive Director, ReFED: “No one wakes up in the morning wanting to waste food. Yet on the whole, households are the largest source of food waste in the U.S., and confusing date labels are a big part of that. And with food prices remaining stubbornly high, it's more important than ever that we help consumers make the best use of the food they purchase. Requiring food businesses to use standardized date labels and educating consumers about what they mean will help busy Americans stretch their grocery budgets, give them the peace of mind of knowing that their food is safe to consume, and lead to substantial reductions in the amount of food being wasted.
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. In this context, preventing food waste represents a critical act of conservation. The Food Date Labeling Act along with nationwide consumer education will heighten awareness on food waste and help us all adjust behaviors at home. This is a win-win for consumers and the environment.”