FAYETTEVILLE -- Goals and initiatives to reduce food waste are gaining broader support in government and within industry, student leaders were told Saturday at the Food Waste and Hunger Summit held at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Olivia Rogine (second from right), community development coordinator from The Campus Kitchens Project based in Washington, D.C., works with conference participants Saturday to do volunteer work in the University of Arkansas Horticulture Club’s GroGreen garden during the Arkansas Campus Kitchen Project’s Food Waste & Hunger Summit in the Arkansas Union in Fayetteville.
Brandon Matthews with the College and University Food Bank Alliance talks Saturday during the Campus Kitchen Project’s Food Waste & Hunger Summit in the Arkansas Union in Fayetteville.
Expanding efforts to get leftover food to those who need it include a new donation program begun by Starbucks in partnership with a large network of food banks. Last year, federal lawmakers approved new tax regulations offering additional incentives for businesses to give food to nonprofit agencies that fight hunger.
Tom Vilsack, U.S. agriculture secretary, said he was approached a couple of years ago about signing on for an initiative to reduce food waste.
"I didn't know at that time that in the U.S., nearly a third of all the food that's produced is wasted. It ends up, in many cases, into landfills," said Vilsack, keynote speaker at the conference hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based The Campus Kitchens Project. The amount of food waste is "a real shame," Vilsack said.
Last year, he announced a goal to cut food waste in half by 2030, with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency also supporting the campaign.
"It's a very ambitious goal," Vilsack told an audience of mostly college students Saturday. "But one that with your help -- with your energy, with your passion -- is one that we can actually accomplish in this country."
About 200 people had arrived for the two-day conference by midmorning Saturday, many of them college students looking to develop or improve food recovery programs on their campuses.
UA students recovered more than 3,500 pounds of food in March. Volunteers repackage leftovers five days a week at two campus dining halls in a program that has grown in size since its first food pickup in February 2014. The food is then given to community partners, including Fayetteville homeless shelters.
Before the student volunteer effort got off the ground, the UA School of Law had established its Food Recovery Project to provide information about federal laws relating to food donation and reuse.
Nicole Civita, director of UA's Food Recovery Project, spoke about the federal tax incentives relating to food donation.
"This is going to be a powerful tool to convince people, you can defray your own costs to set up a food recovery program," Civita said.
She called the federal goal to cut food waste a "bold step."
"But that goal alone is not going to get the job done," Civita said, noting that the federal goal does not provide funding for eliminating food waste and lacks specifics about how to reduce it.
Civita said federal lawmakers need to go further, calling for a true food conservation policy and more involvement from the Food and Drug Administration. She said legislation has been introduced to address some unresolved issues, which include confusion over food sell-by dates and what she said are unnecessarily varying safety standards from city to city regarding the handling of food during recovery efforts.
Tony Pupillo, director of food service and convenience stores for Feeding America, described the nonprofit agency's partnership with Starbucks. He said the chain last year in California began a pilot program using refrigerated vans to transport consumable food that is past its expiration date to local food banks or similar agencies.
The chain has said it will roll out its food donation program nationally over five years.
"What they're trying to do is really raise awareness and just using the massive reach that they have to share what they're doing," Pupillo said.
But the project is also about getting other organizations to try and join in, Pupillo said.
"These vans and staff and all the resources that Starbucks is enabling the network to be able to do, there could be another organization right down the road or in the same shopping center that can also take part in this," Pupillo said. "So we're trying to scale it as much as we can."
Metro on 04/17/2016
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