California Bill Seeks to Change Labeling Rules to Tackle Food Waste

Food waste has become a major issue in the past year, as awareness of the adverse environmental and social impacts of throwing so much food away just because it was aesthetically unpleasing has become more widely known. The numbers are staggering: According to the UglyFruitandVeg campaign, around 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted. In a country where millions of households face food insecurity, this just should not be a problem.

At the front lines of the push to reduce food waste are major retailers — which often throw away completely edible foods, often not even donating it to food banks or other charities. One of the key reasons they do this is due to expiration dates that, amazingly, are almost completely up to the whim of producers and have no standards. That’s right: There are few federal, state or local regulations on food date labels, who sets them and what they actually represent.

A new bill proposed by Assemblyman David Chiu, (D-San Francisco) aims to address this head-on in California. AB 2725, if passed, would implement a statewide standard on all foods that display date labels by creating two phrases: “Best if used by” would signify the date after which the food’s quality may begin to deteriorate, whereas “expires on” would signify after when a high level of risk would be associated with consuming the food product.

This bill hopes to solve a real problem – the staggering amount of healthy, consumable food wasted every day in California.

“In a state where 6 million families are food insecure, a startling amount of food is being wasted every single day because of these arbitrary date labels,” Assemblyman Chiu said in a statement.

“We as consumers want to know what our labels mean and whether or not our food is safe to eat. This bill will clean up these confusing dates and reduce unnecessary food waste.”

California is, of course, the largest state in the country, and that’s important. When a huge chunk of the market changes its regulations, the country often follows. Producers don’t want to create separate labels for California and the rest of America. Chances are, if this passes, its impacts will be felt far beyond the Golden State.

The benefits will go far beyond just reducing waste. Such standardization will benefit the economy, the environment and, ideally, help give access to healthy food to those who don’t have it currently.

“As a state, we can’t afford to throw out perfectly safe and healthy food. It’s bad for our economy, our environment and the millions of people who don’t have access to healthy food,” Nick Lapis, legislative coordinator at Californians Against Waste, which supports the bill, said in a statement.

If you live in California, call your assembly person and ask him or her to support AB 2725. The bill will be heard in the Assembly’s Health Committee later this month and, hopefully, then work its way through the legislative process. This bill alone won’t solve the food waste problem, but it will be a key step forward toward sustainability.

Photo credit: Gunnar Grimes via Flicrk