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Cutting Back on Food Waste Could Have Economic, Environmental Benefits

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Vilsack’s Agriculture Department is working with Cornell University to encourage changes in school lunchrooms to discourage kids from tossing out lunch items as part of the administration’s U.S. Food Waste Challenge.

Restaurant chains, facing consumers’ growing interest in corporate sustainability practices, are wrestling with the waste issue, too, and are looking to local governments for help. A Duke University study done for the National Restaurant Association found that the biggest challenge restaurants face in reducing waste is a lack of affordable composting and recycling options.

Waste has long been a problem in school cafeterias as well, and some schools believe the problem has gotten worse since the USDA overhauled nutrition standards at the direction of Congress. Investigators with the Government Accountability Office recently visited some schools in a review of the standards and observed numerous students throwing away some or all of their fruits and vegetables.

The USDA knew kids might throw some of the more healthful foods away and commissioned Cornell researchers to provide advice on ways to make the new offerings more palatable, said Kevin Concannon, the USDA’s undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. A new policy also allows kids to decline some items.

“Our goal is obviously to have the kid to consume the food that is being served to them,” said Concannon.

However, Jason Foscolo, a New York lawyer who advises small-scale food producers, sounds a note of caution on the effort to cut down on waste, especially on potential label changes.

“Preventing food waste is a noble goal, but it will be an additional burden for those new to the marketplace,” he said in a recent blog post. “With every aspect of a food label already controlled by federal regulation, adding another compliance requirement would disproportionately burden the small producer in particular.”

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