The Center for Science in the Public Interest's new report urges USDA to establish nutritional guidelines for its food distribution programs.
As the nation faces high levels of food and nutrition insecurity, exacerbated by COVID-19, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has pointed out there are no federal policies, and few state policies, that prioritize nutrition in food bank donations. As a result, the nonprofit's new report, Policy Approaches to Healthier Food Banking, calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish nutritional guidelines for its food distribution programs (the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservation) and offers other recommendations for the public and private sectors.
Sixty million people relied on food banks and other charitable food system organizations in 2020 and, according to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, 25% of food and beverages distributed through food banks is unhealthy.
“Food insecure adults and children are at risk of developing diet-related disease and poor health outcomes,” said Joelle Johnson, campaign manager for healthy food access, at Washington D.C.-based CSPI. “As the holiday season approaches, more individuals and families might be seeking help from the charitable food system, and they deserve fresh, nutritious food that meets their needs.”
CSPI's report found that only 43 (14.6%) of 295 federal and state policies impacting food donation address donated food’s nutritional quality.
The organization recommends increasing funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) by indexing the program to a more adequate Food Plan than the Thrifty Food Plan and increasing TEFAP's Farm to Food Bank funding to at least $25 million.
At the state level, the report recommends that additional states implement direct-spending programs supporting farm-to-food bank donations. For example, Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Surplus System subsidizes food bank acquisition of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein from local producers, packers and processors. It also calls for more states to adopt organic waste ban policies that bar landfilling of food waste by producers over a certain tonnage. This creates an incentive to reduce food waste.
Some food retailers are implementing their own initiatives to reduce food waste. For example, Hannaford Supermarkets and the Hannaford Charitable Foundation recently donated $350,000 to help expand gleaning efforts and raise awareness of the fresh food harvesting process throughout New England and New York. The donation will support the work of gleaning networks and organizations to harvest and recover excess produce from local farms that would otherwise go to waste. The food will be delivered directly to area food pantries to provide individuals in need with increased access to healthy, fresh and locally grown food.
“There has been an increased effort in recent years to divert more food to food banks rather than waste it, but an enormous amount of nutritious food still is not captured — 13.9 million tons of food go unharvested annually,” said CSPI legal fellow Emily Friedman. “Our research reveals significant opportunities for public policy reforms that can get more nutritious food to those who need it most, while simultaneously reducing food waste.”