By: Nolan Kessler
The amount of energy, land, water, and money spent on wasted food in the United States is staggering. Specifically, Americans waste “four percent of the [national] energy budget, about 12 percent of the land . . . 23 percent of all freshwater,” and $162 billion each year on uneaten food. Confusing food date labeling is partly to blame for some of this food waste. Up to “90 percent of [Americans] discard some food prematurely as a result of misinterpreting food date labels.” I examined AB 954, which created a uniform food date labeling system in California. Its goal is to reduce consumer confusion around food date labels and cut down on food waste.
To accomplish its goals, AB 954 requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA) “to publish information to encourage food manufacturers, processors, and retailers responsible for the labeling of food products to voluntarily use . . . uniform terms on food product labels to communicate quality dates and safety dates.” These uniform terms are “BEST if USED by” or “BEST if Used or Frozen by,” which both “indicate the quality date of a product,” and “USE by” or “USE by or Freeze by,” which both “indicate the safety date of a product.” Further, AB 954 requires the DFA to promote this voluntary food date labeling system “in the course of its existing interactions with food date manufacturers, processors, and retailers.” Finally, AB 954 allows the DFA to “accept nonstate funds from public and private sources to educate consumers about the meaning of the quality dates and safety dates.”
I analyzed AB 954’s likely impact by exploring how the legislation interacts with a similar industry-led food date labeling initiative announced by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in February 2017. For example, even though the industry started implementing its initiative before the California Legislature began considering AB 954, the legislation remains significant because it will reach entities in the industry that do not belong to the FMI or GMA. Additionally, the DFA can leverage its regulatory and advisory programs, such as its Inspection Service Programs and Marketing Branch, to reach the food industry and convince the industry to adopt AB 954’s food date labeling system. Further, the DFA can use the funding AB 954 authorizes to collaborate with the food industry and nonprofits on consumer education campaigns.
Finally, in the hopes of encouraging stakeholders to build on the momentum created by AB 954, I offered other food waste reduction solutions that consumer-facing businesses, consumers, and governments should consider adopting. Some of these solutions include investing in waste tracking capabilities, embracing imperfect produce, and subsidizing food donation transportation. In the end, by taking a collaborative approach and attacking food waste from these multiple angles, Americans can begin eradicating the food waste epidemic.
To learn more about AB 954, listen to my interview on “In Session,” a podcast by the University of the Pacific Law Review.
Nolan Kessler is a staff writer for the University of the Pacific Law Review and law student student at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.