By Anshu Siripurapu, Current Correspondent

“Forty percent of the food we produce in this country goes to waste,” Ward 3 Council member Mary M. Cheh said at a recent public hearing, where members of the D.C. Council heard testimony in support of a bill that aims to reduce food waste in the city.

The “Save Good Food Amendment Act of 2017” would create a tax credit of up to $5,000 for businesses and $2,500 for individuals that donate food to charity, and it would increase liability protections for food donation. The measure would also require the Department of Health to review its policies for date labels on food and work with the Department of Public Works’ Office of Waste Diversion to create a food donation guide and train health inspectors to use it.

Council members Charles Allen, Jack Evans, David Grosso and Brianne Nadeau joined Cheh in introducing the bill on Jan. 24.

Representatives from several organizations that work to reduce food waste gave testimony to support the bill in front of the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue and the Committee on Health at a March 28 public hearing. They argued that the combination of the tax credit and stronger liability protection would incentivize donations and increase access to healthy food.

“Time and again I hear, ‘We’d love to donate, but there are laws prohibiting it,’” said Kate Urbank, D.C. site director of Food Rescue US. “The Save Good Food Act would arm me with a food donation guide from the Department of Health and clear and current legislation that could alleviate concern, offer local tax credits and get busy business owners closer to saying ‘yes’ to food donation.”

Paula Reichel, advocacy director for the Capital Area Food Bank, said the bill would encourage retail donations, which she said are a critical source of food donations in the area.
The bill also seeks to address confusion created by date labels. Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, chair of the Committee on Health, admitted that he often relies on the “whiff test” to determine if food is still good to eat.

Addressing the impact of date labels on food waste, Tyler Mordecai, a member of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, said that most labels are merely a manufacturer’s estimate of when the food will taste best but, according to research conducted by the clinic, more than half of consumers believe that eating food past the date label is a health risk.

Arian Gibson, a program manager for the Department of Health’s Food Safety and Hygiene Division, said that the bill would not make any changes to the current food code but that it would still be helpful in clarifying existing law.

Following the public hearing, the next step will be for the Committee on Health to mark up the bill and take a vote to send it to the full council, according to Cheh’s office. The Committee on Finance and Revenue may provide analysis and input prior to the markup.