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Wasted food remains significant problem
Scripps Howard News Service


August 18, 2005

America's food industry is still throwing useful food in the garbage despite federal and state laws aimed at encouraging contributions to food banks, according to lawmakers and operators of food banks.

Some promoters of "Good Samaritan" laws adopted by Congress in 1996 are disappointed that eliminating the threat of liability suits for companies donating edible foods to food banks has not resulted in more food channeled to the poor and hungry.

Recent studies funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture grants estimate restaurants and fast food operations are throwing in the garbage about 27 million tons of edible food a year.

"Liability issues were not the actual issues," concluded Timothy Jones, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, which studies food losses and discarded food.

Jones, who supported the Good Samaritan laws, said he's disappointed the law hasn't worked as well as he thought it would. He said supermarkets responded well to efforts to persuade them to donate edible food to food banks, but restaurants, convenience stores and fast-food operations are still throwing away too much of their food in the garbage.

He said much of the loss is because company leaders aren't thinking of new ways of operating, and donating unused product to food banks doesn't contribute to a company's bottom line.

Doug O'Brien, vice president for public policy and research at Second Harvest, a national network of food banks, said resolving the liability issue in 1996 did result in an increase in food recovered for delivery to undernourished people, but it's clear from food waste surveys that more needs to be done. The 1996 law established a nationwide policy that companies cannot be sued if someone gets sick from eating unsaleable food, thus eliminating conflicts in various state laws.

O'Brien said he would like to see Congress give some incentives that would encourage business to do more, especially to recover some of the perishable fish and produce that is thrown away. "There's certainly a need there. Government statistics show that 11 percent of U.S. households are food insecure," he said.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a longtime member of the congressional hunger caucus, is pushing for a tax credit that would permit farmers and restaurants to write off the production costs of food they give away. He notes that 23 million people in the United States rely on food banks, and more than 13 million children are hungry or at risk of hunger.

"We have to take care of the cost issue," said Lugar's spokesman Andy Fisher. "For some businesses, it's just cheaper to throw the food away than get it to food banks."

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., wants to give farmers and businesses a tax credit for transporting food to the food banks. "I have heard again and again that transportation is the biggest single concern," she said. "The food is there. The issue is simply how to transport it."

Second Harvest is concerned about the impact gasoline price increases will have on donations, O'Brien said. Dole's proposal would help by encouraging companies to deliver unused product to food bank sites, rather than relying on the food banks to pick up the product, he said.

Second Harvest spends more than $18 million a year transporting donated food from regions where it is grown or manufactured to urban areas where it is needed.

"With additional resources targeted to covering food transportation costs, we could more than double the amount of highly nutritious, perishable food available to needy Americans," said Ross Fraser of Second Harvest.

Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said food manufacturers are working with Second Harvest to recover as much edible food as possible and they also support tax incentives to encourage more contributions. The manufacturers have invited Second Harvest representatives to an October meeting to discuss further steps industry could take.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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