2- Enable Surplus Food Donation
Nationally, less than 10% of food is donated rather than wasted. In 2020, the sudden demand shift at the onset of COVID-19 exposed the inflexible and siloed nature of existing supply chains, when canceled contracts (in the restaurant and hospitality sectors, for example) left surplus food stranded on American farms—even as demand at food banks and grocery stores skyrocketed. To help farmers become more resilient, profitable, and capable of donating food that would otherwise be lost, the USDA should develop stronger regional food supply chains that: 1) empower farmers to sell through new direct-to-consumer distribution channels, and 2) provide fresh produce and nutritious foods to the growing number of families facing hunger. Congress should also revise donation policies to make it easier for retailers and food service organizations to donate excess food to food rescue organizations.
Expand the Federal Enhanced Tax Deduction for Food Donation to Include Non-Profit Sales and Transport
Under current law, the federal enhanced tax deduction for food donations can only be claimed when food is donated to a non-profit that does not charge the end recipient for the food. Expanding the federal tax deduction can incentivize donations to more recipients, including social supermarkets that sell donated food at an extremely discounted price or food rescue organizations that charge recipients a minimal fee to help offset the costs of home delivery. Adding transport services for donated food as a separate cost eligible for an enhanced tax deduction will also help overcome one of the most expensive barriers for businesses and food rescue organizations to get excess food to those in need.
Enable Greater Food Donation by Farmers
The existing federal enhanced tax deduction for food donations is not well-suited to farmers and is not often claimed by them, as many farmers operate at low profit margins and do not make enough income to claim a tax deduction. Further, the calculation of the value of the deduction is very onerous for farmers. To incentivize farmers to donate surplus crops and offset some of the costs of donation (including labor), Congress could provide an alternative tax credit that farmers could opt to claim instead of the existing enhanced deduction. Congress could also appropriate additional funds to support programs—such as the Farm to Food Bank Program created within The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) in the 2018 Farm Bill—to help cover the harvesting, processing, packaging, and transportation costs of donating agricultural products to local food banks.
Strengthen Liability Protections for Food Donation
To encourage food donation, Congress could strengthen liability protections for food donation in a number of ways, including: 1) broadening protections to include food items sold at a low cost and “direct donations,” or food donations offered directly from certain food business donors to end recipients; 2) granting administrative authority of the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to USDA and directing USDA to write regulations that clarify the language of the Act; and, 3) requiring USDA to implement an education campaign on donation liability protection for potential food donors and food rescue organizations.
Clarify Guidance on Food Safety for Donations
US federal food safety legislation and regulations developed by FDA and USDA generally do not mention the food safety practices that should be followed for food donations, leading to confusion and varying rules in different states and localities. These laws and agency regulations should be updated to feature donation-specific chapters—on topics such as temperature, transportation, and labeling of donated foods. In December 2020, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published draft guidance along these lines that lays out the food safety protocols for meat or poultry to be donated from FSIS-inspected facilities. FDA should follow suit with guidance on food safety protocols for donations from FDA-inspected facilities. As retail and foodservice establishments are licensed and inspected under state law rather than federal law, with guidance provided by the FDA Food Code, FDA also should provide guidance for states and localities on food safety for donated food. Such guidance can help promote more uniformity in state and local regulations around food safety for donations, and can also inform food donation practices by national food businesses. In the absence of action by the FDA, Congress should require FDA to publish such guidance.
Continue to Create Alternative Market Channels for Producers and Consumers
At the start of the pandemic, the USDA took emergency measures, such as the Farmers to Families Food Box program, to help farmers find new distribution channels for unprecedented levels of surplus. This created new supply lines between distributors, farms, food banks, other nonprofits, and families in need. Anti-hunger experts believe that up to 50% of food bank supplies came from these emergency programs during a time when demand for food at food banks increased 60% and as many as one in four American adults were facing hunger. Federal policymakers should incorporate learnings from pandemic-era programs into traditional assistance programs such as TEFAP. Congress and USDA should also work to ensure that SNAP benefit amounts are adequate to ensure a nutritious diet and to support the roll-out of technology that allows small-scale producers, independent retailers, farmers, and farmers markets to participate as vendors in online SNAP markets (building on the support from Congress in the American Rescue Plan). These efforts can help to increase the food security of SNAP participants, ensure small producers maintain market opportunities for their nutritious foods, and strengthen regional supply chains.
Establish New Positions for Regional Supply Chain Coordinators
A lack of real-time food supply data has led to an inability to efficiently find and transport food from where it is grown or stored to where it is needed most. In addition to investing in more transparent and centralized waste information flows, there is a critical need to invest in new positions within the USDA and with trusted partners to achieve supply chain resiliency goals. Regional Supply Chain Coordinators would oversee the efficiency and adaptability of regional food supply chains by aggregating critical data sources on surplus products, stranded assets, and gaps in cold storage and distribution infrastructure. These positions could be especially effective in bringing federal funding and assistance to food deserts and other communities facing barriers to access.