D. Dowd Muska


Food Waste, Political Fraud, and Busybodies’ Abuse

June 02, 2016

America’s out of problems.

What else can one conclude, from the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture’s recent hearing, “Food Waste from Field to Table”?

The out-of-wedlock birthrate tops 40 percent, federal unfunded liabilities are in the hundreds of trillions of dollars, and Washington interventionists’ Middle East meddling makes the homeland a target for every nut with an addiction to the Koran.

But in May, some of our nation’s finest solons met to take testimony on food waste, as well as host “a Food Waste Fair featuring public and private sector organizations taking innovative approaches to recover food that would otherwise go to a landfill.”

Okay, there’s no question that the U.S. fritters away a whole lot of grub. The numbers jump around a bit, depending on which advocacy group you believe. But there is no questioning the appallingness of the enormity. “Forty percent of the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten,” Harvard’s Emily Broad Leib told the committee, “resulting in 62.5 million tons of wasted food each year. Food waste in the U.S. has been on the rise for the past several decades, with per capita food loss increasing by 50 percent from 1974 to 2005.”

That’s disturbing. But those tempted to blame mega-corporations for squandering so much bounty are in for a surprise. Meghan Stasz, of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told the committee that her industry “recycled nearly 94 percent of the food waste generated from manufacturing and in 2015 donated over 800 million pounds of food to food banks.”

The real food-waste culprits? You and me. A study conducted for the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found that 44 percent of the victuals that make their way to landfills is tossed by households. Full-service restaurants account for 20 percent, and fast-food joints contribute another 13 percent. Grocery stores throw out 11 percent, and institutions such as hospitals and schools waste 10 percent.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), the committee’s chairman, thinks that food waste “is, and should be a non-partisan issue,” and requires “engaging everyone in the food chain … . It will take the collaboration of all stakeholders to be successful.” Conway’s colleague, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), has drafted two pieces of legislation to ensure that “less food is needlessly thrown out”: the Food Recovery Act and the Food Date Labeling Act.

Give fedpols obsessed with food waste credit for their restraint. In Seattle, composting comstockery got underway in 2014, when the city council imposed a $1 fine for disposing of food waste. As the Seattle Times helpfully explained, garbage collectors would “take a quick look when they lift the lid of your bin and they’ll look again when they empty the bin into their truck. They already look in your bin for recyclable materials, which were banned from the trash in 2005.”

In 2015, the Pacific Legal Foundation sued. On April 28, in a brutal loss for the nattering nabobs of nannyism, privacy prevailed. Attorney Ethan Blevins crowed that a “clear message has been sent to Seattle public officials: Recycling and other environmental initiatives can’t be pursued in a way that treats people’s freedoms as disposable. Seattle can’t place its composting goals over the privacy rights of its residents. By authorizing garbage collectors to pry through people’s garbage without a warrant, the city has promoted a policy of massive and persistent snooping. That’s not just wrong as a matter of policy, as the judge has correctly ruled, it is wrong as a matter of law.”

Food waste is nothing to be proud of, but the case for government involvement is weak. As is usually the case, the charitable and for-profit sectors are stepping up. In San Francisco, CropMobster empowers “communities to transform food waste, surplus and loss into new value, celebration and resource efficiency.” In Dorchester, Massachusetts, Daily Table works “with a large network of growers, supermarkets, manufacturers, and other suppliers who donate their excess, healthy food to us.” The Food Waste Reduction Alliance is “landmark, cross-industry initiative” that “includes more than 30 manufacturing, retailing and foodservice companies, along with expert partners from the anti-hunger community and waste management sector.” It is targeting “the root causes of food waste within our own operations.”

“Public awareness” can help, to some extent, on the household front. But let’s be realistic. The gap between our intentions and our actions will never be closed. That kale you grabbed at the growers market seemed like a good idea. But after sitting, untouched, for several weeks in the fridge, it’s awfully skunky. And the broccoli, right alongside….

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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