Policy Solutions

Food Waste

US Federal
Agriculture

Research and Development

Federal investment in research and development (R&D) supports economic growth, drives down costs for key technologies that can be used domestically and exported abroad, and promotes U.S. leadership on clean energy and climate. Federal policymakers should increase investment and enact programmatic reforms to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) focus on advancing R&D for:

  • Precision food safety, including sensors or other technology that can evaluate food risks; and
  • Refrigerator redesign, including built-in modified atmosphere, IoT and smart features, and improved user interfaces.

Validation and Early Deployment

Fiscal Incentives

Grants and rebates can promote the adoption of key waste-reducing practices and technologies, such as automated measurement and hauler technology and shelf-life extension. The federal government should provide fiscal incentives to businesses that employ technologies that demonstrably reduce food waste over a baseline at their facilities. These incentives will improve data quality, promote the use of new equipment, and catalyze the uptake of other innovative solutions.

Reporting and Regulations

Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USDA, and EPA established a joint goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. To help achieve this goal, these agencies should adopt some of the key recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office, such as developing mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report on results. In addition, these agencies should lead by example, with top food-procurement agencies such as the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans’ Affairs measuring and reporting the quantity of edible food they discard and create plans for reducing waste.

The FDA and USDA can further reduce food waste by modernizing relevant regulations. For example, now that we can use technology to evaluate the risk of pathogen exposure more precisely, these agencies should adjust their regulations accordingly—which will lead to lower rates of discarded food that is safe to eat.

Rapid, Large Scale Deployment

Food Waste Federal Resources for States

Food waste often falls under the purview of state and local governments, but federal funding can provide the resources needed to adopt infrastructure-intensive waste-reducing and composting policies and make it economically viable to expand implementation of best practices at schools and farms. Grant programs and technical assistance can support state-level implementation of best practices like food-conservation laws, landfill bans, reporting requirements, full utilization on farms, and waste reduction in K–12 Child Nutrition Programs.

Date Label Standardization

Confusion over the meaning of date labels (and thus over when food is no longer safe to eat) is one significant cause of wasted food from home kitchens. There is currently no federal regulation of date labels, and state laws are dizzyingly inconsistent. Combined with consumer education, standardizing these labels could save an estimated 800 million pounds of food per year.