Food Donation Improvement Act Will Encourage Donations, Reduce Food Waste

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Food Donation Improvement

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Food Donation Improvement Act

Overview: Congress has passed the Food Donation Improvement Act (FDIA), which expands protections for businesses and makes it easier for them to donate food. 

Location: United States

Population: 335.9 million

Food policy category: Food waste, food security

Program goals: To facilitate food donations from businesses in order to prevent food waste and improve food security.

How it works: The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 provides limited liability protection for those who make donations of safe food and grocery products to organizations that serve the hungry or food-insecure. It states that neither donors nor recipient organizations will be subject to civil or criminal liability due to the condition of the food they are donating or receiving, but it does not cover donations provided directly to hungry individuals. 

The FDIA amends the 1996 act by:

  1. Allowing businesses and organizations to donate foods that are safe for consumption:
    • To recipients who are charged a price that is no more than the cost of handling, administering, and distributing the food, and
    • Directly to hungry individuals by a retail grocer, wholesaler, agricultural producer, restaurant, caterer, school-food authority, or institution of higher education.
  2. Calling on the USDA to provide clarity regarding quality and labeling standards for donated foods in order to meet eligibility for the liability protections. 

Progress to date: The FDIA was introduced in November 2021, and more than 25 food businesses and nonprofits signed an open letter to Congress urging the passage of the bill. 

Why it is important: While the Bill Emerson Food Donation Act was designed to encourage more food donations, much of the language used is unclear, and businesses still fear legal repercussions because they do not understand what is or is not covered under the liability protections. As a result, many businesses deem it safer to discard food that is still safe to eat than it is to donate it and potentially face civil or criminal charges. 

In 2021, 13.5 million households in America were food insecure and 53 million Americans turned to emergency food programs such as food banks or food pantries for assistance. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of all food in America is wasted, with commercial food-waste comprising 61 percent of the total. Globally, the amount of discarded edible food could feed two billion people

The FDIA will help to clarify what foods can be safely donated and provided to hungry individuals without legal repercussions, which will encourage more businesses to donate their excess food rather than discarding it. 

Program/Policy initiated: At the time of this writing, the bill has passed in Congress and is awaiting President Biden’s signature to become law. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: The Federal Food Donation Act of 2008 encourages executive agencies to donate their excess wholesome food to nonprofit organizations that provide food to the food-insecure. The Internal Revenue Code 170(e)(3) of 2011 provides tax deductions for businesses that make food donations.

Evaluation: While a formal evaluation has not yet been conducted, the bill has received bipartisan support in Congress, and its passage was supported by numerous businesses and nonprofits

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