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Let's Be Honest, Episode 40: Bill Emerson Law & Food Donations

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable and the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment!

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

Bill Emerson Law explained

When Representative Bill Emerson was still active, he made a proposal to facilitate food donations to non profit organisations without the donors being afraid of liability issues. The law, which was named Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, was signed by the U.S. President Bill Clinton and encourages donations of «apparently wholesome food» by excluding donor liability except in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Bill Emerson law as stated formally: «Section 401 of the National and Community Service Act of 1990 expresses the sense of Congress that each of the 50 states consider enactment of the Model Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. The central provision of the Model Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides that a person or gleaner (a person who harvests for free distribution to the needy) shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner distributes in good faith to a non-profit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals. This immunity does not apply to an injury or death of an ultimate user or recipient of the food or grocery product that results from an act or omission of the donor constituting gross negligence or intentional misconduct.» [1]

Reasons why stores do not donate their food surplus

Since there is a law protecting firms and stores from being harmed by donating their food surplus, a good question might arise. Why they don't give it away? Here are some of the basic reasons that researches show:

  1. The first and most important WHY is credits for liability. Even though the Bill Emerson law protects the good faith donors from lawsuits, firms are being afraid of held liable if someone gets sick by their donated products and think it's not worth the legal risk. Moreover, they consider that their popularity will fail vertically and lose their customers.

  2. In one word, logistics. All the process from checking and storing the food to coordinating picks ups and distribute them takes up a lot of time and resources that stores cannot spare. Even though some charities help with the various chores, it is not enough to accomplish such a huge task. Also, an issue that may arise is that some shelters don't have enough space to store and refrigerate the food surplus or use it all before it goes bad. [2+3]

Why supermarkets order more food than they need

As expected, supermarkets don't over-order products with the intention of tossing away the surplus. In the contrary, they try to balance their needs in products with full and abundant shelves, without exceeding their targets. Unfortunately, it is a fact that full and amplious displays sell better and we customers respond poorly to that. If supermarkets displayed only the quantities of products they intend to sell, the shelves would look empty and poor. Not much of a liability factor. So, to avoid unecessary downfall in sales, the supermarkets struggle not to spend too much money in inventory that will just sit back in the shelves but also have an aesthetically pleasing environment for the customer to shop. [4]

Let's have a look at some statistics

  • Most recent studies cite that supermarkets throw away 44,8 billion pounds of food yearly. Although there is a progress in managing the food waste, it still remains a massive problem.

  • Up to 40% of food is wasted while still perfectly edible. Except of the stores, accountability should also be taken by the consumers. When a product is a bit 'ugly', it is tossed due to the lack of consume because it is considered bad.

  • Twice as much food is wasted worldwide compared to what’s been previously estimated. Around a third of the available food for human consumption is wasted every year.

  • Wasted food takes up around 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural area. Around 30% of land is taken up by food that is produced and left uneaten. This is a large area that can’t be used for agricultural purposes.

  • On average, grocery stores discard 122.7 million pounds of food each day.

  • Grocery stores lose an estimated $18.2 billion a year from food waste, according to a report from Refed.

  • Food waste accounts for approximately 21.5% of all landfill garbage.

  • Around 19,000 new unpopular food products placed on shelves are likely to be discarded. [5+6]

Why to donate food

Besides the financial and social benefits, preventing food waste has enormous benefits for the environment. Natural resources are expended at every step of the food production cycle – growing, transporting, processing, storing, cooking and even disposing. Each of these activities has associated and high environmental costs, such as energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2006, the EPA estimated that 13 percent of annual greenhouse gas production across the nation came from the production of food. The Natural Resources Defense Council says wasted food eats up a quarter of all freshwater consumed in the U.S., along with 4 percent of oil, while producing 23 percent of the nation's methane emissions. Additionally, agriculture occupies vast expanses of land, and fertilizers and pesticides are responsible for creating environmental nightmares like the Gulf of Mexico’s gigantic dead zones.

Another Perspective

Another interesting point of view is that donation is not always the solution to the reduction of food waste. Because of the highly efficient production line, the agricultural process is incredibly environmentally hazardous, relying both on high inputs of fossil fuels and the use of toxic pesticides. The food industry relies on unjust migrant labor to drive production costs lower. This industry makes most of its new products from all the same ingredients, just packaged and shaped differently. For this reason, most food donated to food banks is highly processed, and quite unhealthy. Food rots, so it is incredibly difficult to store and sort. With little funding and no municipal support, food banks rely more and more on volunteer service, while being increasingly bound to the continued existence of the industrial food system. [7]

Author: Alexandra Bakalianou


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