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Food loss and waste, the US action plan to reduce food waste

THEHarvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, Natural Resource Defense Council, together with ReFED and WWF, have sent the Biden administration and Congress a 5-point action plan to reduce the Food Loss and Waste (FLW). In parallel, the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) has issued guidelines to encourage the donation of surpluses in a safe manner.

One of the greatest paradoxes of our day is in fact the number of people who still suffer from hunger today, more than 800 million according to the FAO, and the enormous amount of food that is wasted every day. (1)

Food Loss and Waste, the US plan

Food waste two groups are distinguished:

  • food lossfood loss), is food waste that occurs earlier in the supply chain. It occurs mainly in the post-harvest phase when food is not collected or is damaged during processing, transport or storage and is discarded. In this phase, 54% of total waste takes place and most of it occurs in developing countries,
  • food waste (food waste) takes place in the final phase of the production chain and has food distributors and consumers as protagonists. Waste is mainly concentrated in medium and high income regions and at the household level: 570 million tons of food out of 931 is wasted at home, 74 kg per capita per year.

Food waste they also represent a dispersion of resources and energy. Together with food, we waste 253 cubic km of drinking water, a third of the land that is deforested and the pesticides used there. 6% of greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of climate-changing gases are also emitted due to fermentation in landfills. (2,3)

The data on Food Loss and Waste are uncertain due to lack of food tracking.

The European Commission has plans for a legislative proposal for 2023 to reduce waste, in line with the strategy Farm to fork and the UN 2030 goals (SDG n 12,3). (4) In this regard, the competent US authority has issued recommendations to reduce food losses and waste and guidelines to facilitate food donation.

La Food Loss and Waste of the United States

La Food Loss and Waste of the United States fluctuates between 30 and 40% of the food produced each year. It means 408 billion dollars a year, about 2% of the country's GDP and 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. And the pandemic has amplified the situation as in the rest of the world.

The authors of the document "A call to action on US food loss & waste policy” have drawn up a list of 5 actions to reduce the food loss e food waste accompanied by recommendations addressed to the Administration and Congress to achieve the goal of the UN. (5)

1) Invest in prevention and keep waste out of landfills

The food it is the heaviest element in US landfills and incinerators. Investments therefore need to be made to reduce waste and save excess food as well as improve waste measurement and recycling.

Improve the management of organic waste, also through upcycling, as well as bringing social and environmental benefits, has the potential to create 18.000 new jobs every year until 2030. Donations and composting of organic waste should be encouraged and restrictions eased to ensure that waste is unfit for consumption humans are destined for animal feed.

2) Enable the donation of excess food

less than 10% of food is donated rather than wasted. The USDA should encourage direct sales by farmers and allow them to donate surpluses to hungry families.

For this purpose the federal tax break for donations should be expanded and tax credits provided for farmers who want to donate produce. At the same time, legislation needs to be implemented by specific food safety regulations for donations.

3) Show the leadership of the United States at home and abroad

The United States, with the Biden administration, have re-entered the Paris Agreement and have the goal of decarbonising the agri-food sector. To reduce pollution it is necessary to double efforts to reduce waste as the country is one of the first in food waste per capita.

According to plan, 50 million should be allocated for research and innovation in the Food Loss and Waste to divert food from landfills to donation or composting.

4) Educate and activate consumers

37% waste in the USA it occurs at the domestic level. You need to invest in public campaigns to educate consumers about waste reduction.

Even in canteens schools, action must be taken to reduce waste and increase students' consumption of fruit and vegetables.

5) Standardize national date labeling

The indications 'BEST if Used By' e 'USE By' they only work if applied across the country and if consumers are educated in how to interpret them. Today, 85% of food is thrown away prematurely by consumers even though it is still safe, and even donations from shops are struggling.

Removing barriers to food donations

The new food code of 2022 was supplemented by the FDA with a portion dedicated to food donations by food establishments, which is part of the Biden-Harris administration's national strategy on hunger, nutrition and health.(6)

Donations of food have never been prohibited by US legislation, however it is assumed that the explicit provision of this possibility helps to increase them thus reducing waste. The donation of food that is stored, prepared, packaged, displayed and labeled in accordance with the law and this code is therefore promoted. (7)


To reach the goal of halving food waste by 2030 will not be easy. While we wait for an update of the relevant legislation, consumers can play an important role in preventing it food waste. It is important to pay more attention to purchases, prefer food in bulk and adhere to applications such as too good to go.

Alessandra Mei


(1) UN report: the number of people suffering from hunger in the world will rise to 828 million in 2021. https://www.fao.org/newsroom/detail/world-food-day-2022-food-security-agriculture-FAO/it

(2) Given European Commission, Biodegradable waste https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/waste-and-recycling/biodegradable-waste_en

(3) FAO, Food waste burdens climate, water, soil and biodiversity, https://www.fao.org/news/story/it/item/196458/icode/

(4) FAO, Sustainable Development Goals, https://www.fao.org/sustainable-development-goals/indicators/1231/en/ 

5) A call to action on US food loss & waste policy https://foodwasteactionplan.org/

6) Biden-Harris Administration national strategy on hunger, nutrition, and health https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/White-House-National-Strategy-on-Hunger-Nutrition-and-Health-FINAL.pdf

7) https://www.fda.gov/media/164194/download

Alessandra Mei
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Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.

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