Democratic lawmakers say wasted food is a climate threat to agriculture

Members of the US House of Representatives Committee on the Climate Crisis and eyewitnesses said people need better guidance on food packaging to decide whether food that may have faded on refrigerator or cupboard shelves is still safe to eat.

“Use by,” “better,” “sell by,” “enjoy,” the many words you see to describe dates on food are actually very confusing to consumers, and consumers misinterpret these dates to mean they mean they’re “use by,” said Dana Gunders, CEO. For ReFED, a national organization that studies food waste, “You’re supposed to throw that food out.”

It is estimated that 30% to 40% of food in the United States is wasted, and the issue is complicated because it goes far beyond the people who throw away the food they buy. There is waste at all stages of production and distribution, starting with crops that are not harvested.

But Gonders, in her testimony Friday to the committee, said standard food labeling and a national awareness campaign would have an immediate impact.

The FDA generally does not require dates on food labels—it does so for infant formula—but it has worked in recent years to support the use of the phrase “best if used by” on labels to indicate when a food was still of high quality.

Gonders said an extra step should be taken: Set one date for quality and another for safety.

Her testimony was part of the panel’s discussion on food waste, which is part of a broader examination on curbing human-caused climate change. Previous hearings have addressed methane pollution, energy efficiency, energy production and others.

The discussion about food waste follows reports Thursday that US Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, does not support key climate legislation — which includes incentives to produce wind and solar energy — that has been negotiated since last year.

However, on Friday, Manchin left open the possibility that the Senate could approve important climate legislation.

This legislation is essential to President Joe Biden’s goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, and a Manchin vote is necessary to pass it in the Senate where Republicans hold half the seats. The cut-off votes were cast by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Lawmakers and Biden said they would not give up regardless of Manchin’s support. “…we must move forward and use all the tools we have to solve the climate crisis,” US Representative Cathy Castor, a Democrat from Florida, who leads the committee, said Friday. “The costs of inaction are too high.”

Biden said his administration will act unilaterally to address climate issues if legislative inaction continues.

“If the Senate does not act to address the climate crisis and boost the domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong enforcement action to confront this moment,” Biden said in a written statement Friday. “My actions will create jobs, improve our energy security, strengthen local manufacturing and supply chains, protect us from rising oil and gas prices in the future, and tackle climate change.”

Agriculture accounts for about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Nearly half of these emissions are nitrous oxide from farmland that is fertilized or containing crops that work with bacteria to produce nitrogen.

About a quarter of agricultural emissions are methane – a potent greenhouse gas – belched by cows. About 12% of emissions are from livestock manure.

Wasted food is the single largest type of material taken to landfills, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and landfills are a significant source of methane.

“The food supply chain is both contributing and being hurt by rising emissions and climate change,” said U.S. Representative Susan Bonamichi, a member of the Oregon Democratic Committee.

She and others have attributed heat waves, wildfires, violent storms and other disasters that have caused billions of dollars in damage to crops to rising global temperatures.

In Iowa, a warmer climate is thought to induce a change in precipitation patterns that has the potential to create large variances in available soil moisture, with some areas being too wet and others too dry.

Biden pushed “climate-smart agriculture” to help transform the agricultural industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and Republican members of the committee on Friday lashed out at potential criticism of farmers for their contribution to climate change. They specifically referred to the efficiencies that American agriculture has achieved in recent decades.

“US farms are feeding the world, and here we are trying to criticize them for carbon emissions,” said US Representative John Carter, R-Texas. “It just baffles me.”

Many Republicans have also criticized Biden for high fuel prices and argued that more should be invested in domestic oil production because the United States has stricter emissions controls than other oil-producing countries.

“We can sit here and talk all day — we can sit here and say all these things to make people feel good,” U.S. Representative Garrett Graves, R-Louisiana, said of the Democrats’ proposals. “The reality is that the policies that this administration is pushing today are actually causing more harm to the environment.”

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