The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


USDA, EPA to collaborate on food waste challenge

Bob Perciasepe, Acting Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, speaks as he and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, far right, launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge at the USDA today. To Perciasepe’s left are Burleson Smith of United Fresh, representing RioFarms and Gills Onions, and Kees Kruythoff, president of Unilever North America. (USDA/Bob Nichols)

About 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said today, as they launched an initiative to encourage everyone in the food chain from farmers to processors to retailers to consumers to “reduce, recover and recycle food waste.”

In a ceremony on the patio of the Agriculture Department headquarters, Vilsack said he will encourage consumers to think in advance about the size of portions they put on the table. He said USDA will also launch a nationwide social media campaign to inform people what “sell by” and “use by” dates on food containers really mean, encourage more donations of food that may be stale-dated but still edible, and also encourage schools and other institutions to be more conscious of how to prevent food waste and dispose of wasted food.

In 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants, and homes never made it into people’s stomachs, Vilsack said. The amount of uneaten food in homes and restaurants was valued at almost $390 per U.S. consumer in 2008, more than an average month’s worth of food expenditures, he said, adding that he is sure those families would rather have that money to spend.

He also said that food waste is a “moral issue” because “literally millions of American struggle to be well fed” and that food should go to those who need it rather than be wasted.

Bob Perciasepe

Bob Perciasepe

For EPA, the issue is the impact of food waste on the environment.

“Food waste is the single largest type of waste entering our landfills,” Perciasepe said.

“Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food,” he said. “Addressing this issue not only helps with combating hunger and saving money, but also with combating climate change: food in landfills decomposes to create potent greenhouse gases.”
Vilsack and Perciasepe were joined at the U.S. Food Waste Challenge event by representatives of private-sector groups that have promised to dedicate themselves to fighting food waste, including Unilever, the United Fresh Produce Association, the Food Marketing Institute, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, Feeding America, and Rock and Wrap It Up!, a group that encourages the reuse of leftover food at stadiums and rock concerts.

As part of its contribution to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA will also develop new technologies to reduce food waste, work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.

The Challenge includes a goal to have 400 partner organizations by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020.