June 22, 2021
When I opened yesterday’s newspaper the front-page story was on a petition asking one of the large grocery stores to not discard unwanted plants. Bryce Capocelli of Barling heard from a friend that plants were being dumped in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and when he asked his local store if they did the same, he was told they did. On May 20, Capocelli launched a petition on Change.org, asking the grocery chain to change its policy of disposing non-sellable or out-of-season plants and instead donate the plants to non-profits which can use them to feed the poor. Capocelli’s petition states, “One tomato plant can yield up to 20 pounds of fruit per season. Imagine how many people (the store) could stop from going hungry just by making a small change.” Over 79,000 people have signed the petition as of June 16, with responses coming from across the US.
Every year, grocery stores discard more than 43 billion pounds of food (not including plants!). Much of the food is technically edible, but most large grocery chains limit what food gets donated out of fear of litigation from vague laws and regulations. Food banks or charitable organizations could evaluate the quality of the product prior to redistribution and determine whether it is edible. In our litigious society large corporations are hesitant to donate items that could be deemed questionable. There is some legal protection for those who donate under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (BEGSFDA). That act was put into law to encourage the donation of “food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals”. It seems like a good idea.
Responding to a request for comment on the petition, a spokesperson highlighted the efforts of the company to meet its sustainability goals. They are looking for ways to recycle rather than discard plant waste in select locations. This is part of the companies zero waste strategy, which calls for diversion of approximately 80 percent of waste, including food waste, from landfills and incineration. The goal is to create zero waste in the US operations by 2025. Last year the company donated more than 627 million pounds of food in the US alone. Inedible food is converted to animal feed, compost, or energy. In 2020, more than 950 million pounds of discard went through these programs. That leaves a lot of discard, and it does not address the petition on plant discard.
Thoughts: The BEGSFDA is a federal mandate that requires States to adopt legislation to protect those who donate (not discard) food in good faith from civil or criminal liability should the donated food later cause harm to recipients. On Dec. 20, 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill) was signed into law. The Bill directs the USDA to issue guidance to promote awareness of donations of wholesome food by qualified donors protected under the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (GSFDA). This guidance only applies to privately donated foods provided to The Emergency Food Assistance Program state and eligible recipient agencies. It is daunting to even read this explanation paragraph. Like so many good intentions, we are content to let the courts figure out what it means. It is easier to discard what cannot be sold. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.