Washington Insider - Thursday

Cutting Food Waste

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Sen. Roberts Laments Failure of Cloture on GMO Labeling Plan

Failure of the U.S. Senate to invoke cloture on the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions bill prompted criticism by the architect of the plan, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who challenged those opposed to the plan to produce an alternative.

“For more than a year, I have called on my colleagues across the aisle to come to the negotiating table to address the problems facing the nation’s marketplace should states continue to mandate confusing and differing biotechnology labeling standards,” Roberts said after the 48-49 vote. “I have repeatedly put forward proposals to protect farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. I have been flexible and have compromised in order to address concerns about making information available to consumers.”

Opponents of the Roberts bill, he observed, have not put forth an alternative, noting: “Opponents of this approach would not put forward a proposal for a vote. Why is that? Will their proposals pass the Senate or better yet, the House? In short, where is their solution? Without their own solution, opponents of this bill must favor the status quo. We cannot stand on the sidelines and risk increasing costs for consumers and further uncertainty in the marketplace for farmers and manufacturers.”

Roberts further warned that if there is not action on the issue: “Everyone loses. I have acted to provide a responsible, enforceable, scientific and proactive approach to arm consumers with the information they want to make informed choices about what to put on the dinner table. But most important, I respect the work of our farmers and ranchers that produce the food and fiber to feed a troubled and hungry world. Farmers, manufacturers and consumers should ask their senator if they can say the same.”

From the House side, House Ag Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, gave an even sharper rebuke. He pointed to opposition from Democratic lawmakers who “have refused to move from their position calling for a mandatory warning label for products of biotechnology. They have chosen to side with activists who have publicly acknowledged their objective is to stigmatize a safe and valuable tool for America’s farmers and ranchers.”


India Asks WTO to Take Up SSM and Stockholding Issues

India is concerned with the pace of talks for a permanent agreement on special safeguard mechanism (SSM), which allows for agricultural tariffs to be levied by developing countries in times imports surge or prices drop.

Developed nations including the U.S., European Union (EU), Canada and Australia have all asked for additional time before talks in the World Trade Organization on the SSM and subsidies to farmers in developing countries take place. India asserts that further delay is unacceptable considering the original decision to create a permanent solution for the issues during a 2013 WTO ministerial.

The most recent call by India for talks is likely due in part to impending elections in the nation, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing stiff opposition.


Washington Insider: Cutting Food Waste

Recently, Clayton Aldern wrote for Grist about initiatives described at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He noted that food is “the mother of all landfill fillers” because the volume is so large, and so much of it is wasted—up to 40% of food in the United States, for example. He wrote to highlight two new initiatives that will target humanity’s tendency to throw away much of the food “perfectly good food needed to keep us alive.”

The first initiative, called Champions 12.3, is run by a patchwork coalition of 30 heavy-hitters from the likes of Nestlé, World Wildlife Fund, Unilever, and the African Union. The coalition, which aims to cut global food waste in half and reduce food loss by 2030, is named after UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which encourages countries to take steps to cut waste.

The initiative is largely a communications project that will “inspire action” by “leading by example,” “motivating others,” and “showcasing successful food loss and waste reduction strategies,” the group told the press. The coalition also includes a former White House chef, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and the CEO of British grocery giant Tesco.

The second initiative is a separate $130 million project of the Rockefeller Foundation (also a member of Champions 12.3) and will largely target post-harvest spoilage of food in sub-Saharan Africa. The New York Times reported that the YieldWise initiative has already struck partnerships and begun work with “private sector partners in Africa, including Coca-Cola and mango farmers in Kenya, and the West African conglomerate Dangote Group for its tomato orders in Nigeria.”

The two initiatives are aiming at so-called “farm-to-fork food waste”—that is, food that’s lost or discarded along supply chains and Grist says that is a shift away from the classic approach to food waste reduction that targets consumers. The new approach may represent an easier sell, since wasted food is wasted expenditure for companies. In an interview with the Times, Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin called the foundation’s initiative “a people play, a profits play and a planet play.”

The new initiatives are also a “sneaky form of climate action,” Grist says. Food waste accounts for 7% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, more than twice as much as India emits each year. Any successful effort to cut food waste is an emissions cut, too.

Champion 12.3’s focus on a specific Sustainable Development Goal line item represents one of the first large-scale initiatives that will attempt to break down the mammoth list of 169 targets into discrete efforts. If the SDGs are to succeed, analysts say, that’s the kind of focused public–private effort we’ll need to see in the coming years.

In any case, a very large amount, close to a third of all food produced is never eaten and Rodin estimates that something on the order of 40% of food in developing countries is lost before making it to market.

Food waste is not a new target for development groups, and some efforts have been quite successful—for example, better storage methods have reduced post-harvest waste in many countries. However, waste is an elusive target because it is the result of poor technology, inadequate facilities and consumer preferences for only the freshest products, closely trimmed with no bruises or blemishes. The problem is important, and these new efforts should be watched closely by producers as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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