WASHINGTON (August 21, 2020) – In the United States, an average of 30 percent of food is thrown away. This is a financial and environmental problem in even the best times, but today the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens food insecurity for thousands of Americans. Many are facing smaller or lost paychecks while disease outbreaks at food processing plants reduce food supply and increase costs. While there are many factors leading to food waste, efforts to reduce it must involve changes across the entire food system, not just individual habits. A Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research- (FFAR) funded consensus study report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, “A National Strategy to Reduce Food Waste at the Consumer Level,” released today, examines the cultural and societal drivers of food waste among consumers. The report provides a multilevel strategy for how the public and private sectors can provide the motivation, opportunities and abilities to help consumers reduce food waste.
“Saving food doesn’t just mean saving money; it means fewer trips to the grocery store and less burden on food production and distribution,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “At a time when COVID-19 presents a triple threat to our health, our finances and our food supply chain, reducing food waste is vital to getting through this pandemic. This report is a roadmap for institutional changes that enable consumers to make smart food choices at grocery stores, in restaurants and in their kitchens.”
In the wide-ranging report, the National Academies assembled experts in food waste, psychology and marketing, sociology, public health, nutrition, behavioral economics, food systems, urban planning, intervention design and implementation science to examine research and investigate influences on consumers’ food choices. The report offers suggestions to stakeholders including governments, the food industry, commercial entities, nonprofit and volunteer organizations, educational institutions and foundations. The report finds that food waste behaviors are shaped on conscious and nonconscious levels by a variety of drivers including personal circumstances, social feedback, marketing, the media and government policies.
The report offers three pathways that institutions, such as industry associations, schools and government agencies, can take to reduce food waste at the consumer level. The first is changing the US food environment to discourage waste. Such initiatives may include public policies and financial incentives that encourage waste reduction and innovations in the food industry such as standardized “best by” date labeling. The second pathway is strengthening consumers’ motivation, opportunity and ability to reduce food waste through projects like national campaigns, influencer messaging and food literacy in schools. Finally, the report recommends supporting research and technology to accurately measure food waste, help consumers with food waste reduction strategies and track the effectiveness of intervention strategies.
The report’s findings and recommendations are freely available and the National Academies is distributing results to key stakeholders across the public and private sectors and academia.
FFAR provided the National Academies a $336,000 to conduct this report. FFAR’s investment was matched by a contribution from the Walmart Foundation for a total award of $673,000.
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.