The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), in partnership with The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), hosted the first-ever virtual convening to discuss policy strategies for strengthening food donation operations during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and beyond. This was the first in a series of webinars organized under the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas project, a joint partnership between FLPC and GFN, with support from the Walmart Foundation. Featuring select government policymakers and food donation experts from around the world, this webinar series creates a space for dialogue on innovative legal and policy solutions to food loss, waste, and food insecurity.
In just the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN warned that a “looming food crisis,” would likely occur without appropriate government interventions to mitigate hunger. Countries around the world witnessed record-breaking demand at food banks, as unemployment rates quickly rose, and the threat of food insecurity became a reality for far too many. At the same time, global trends indicated that food banks—an essential social net—were often excluded from national emergency response plans. This exclusion, along with protectionist policies and other supply chain disruptions, ultimately undermined the potential impact of food donation operations to assist those in need. In June 2020, FLPC and GFN published an issue brief, Strengthening Food Donation Operations During COVID-19, recommending strategies for government policymakers to more effectively leverage food donation operations as a solution to rising hunger and food insecurity amidst the pandemic.
More than six months after publishing this brief, FLPC and GFN invited select government officials and representatives from food recovery organizations to provide an updated account of government coordination with food donation operations. Moderated by Ertharin Cousin, CEO and Founder of Food Systems for the Future, the forum centered around myriad ways that governments have integrated food donation as part of their emergency response. From enhanced civic engagement, to emergency government funding, to multi-stakeholder partnerships, panelists shared a range of policy and legal reforms that have enabled more efficient, equitable distribution of food during the global crisis.
Some highlights of successful policy adoption and implementation included those shared by the keynote speaker of the event, Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food. The Minister explained the collective vision outlined in the new Food Policy for Canada, which permitted government agility in allotting critical funds to food security organizations and adjusting food systems to shifting needs of citizens and suppliers. Dr. Jean C. Buzby, Food Loss and Waste Liaison at United States Department of Agriculture, further underscored the importance of government support for food recovery and donation, highlighting critical U.S. federal efforts to relieve pandemic pressure on food banks and distribute food through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Brianna Casey, representing the Australian government’s National Coordination Group, enumerated several examples of collaborative governance among multi-stakeholder, public-private partnerships that allowed for a rapid and dynamic response to the pandemic. Dr. Heena Yadav from India’s Food Safety Standards Authority echoed the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation, emphasizing that such partnerships were especially critical for small-scale food distribution organizations experiencing unprecedented demand.
Other panelists impressed the importance of strategic policy mechanisms to position food recovery and donation as a solution to food loss and waste—an issue that has worsened due to supply chain disruptions during the pandemic. Manuela Cuvi, from the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, presented valuable resources developed by the FAO to support country efforts to address food loss and waste, in particular, Voluntary Codes of Conduct on Food Loss and Waste Reduction and a regional legislative study of food loss, waste, and donation laws in Latin America and the Caribbean. Emphasizing the benefits of such legislation, Natalia Basso, who coordinates the implementation of the National Plan to Reduce Food Loss and Waste in Argentina, highlighted a 2018 liability protection amendment to Argentina’s Food Donation Law (Régimen Especial para la Donación de Alimentos) and a recent policy regulating private sector food waste; each of these interventions significantly contributes to food security and food donation.
Komla Prosper Bissi, representing the African Union, further recognized the detrimental impact of the pandemic on efforts to prevent and reduce food loss. Representative Bissi explained that while African leaders are committed to a 50% reduction in food loss and waste by 2025 pursuant to the UN Sustainable Goal (SDG) 12.3, progress has been disrupted by market lockdowns, transportation limitations, border processes, and other COVID-19 effects. Policy solutions that promote food donation as both a solution to food insecurity and food loss and waste may help countries recover lost-momentum towards this and other SDGs.
Troels Mandel Vensild, Minister Counsellor of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries in the Embassy of Denmark, argued that civic engagement can also be an innovative strategy to motivate food donation and food waste reduction, heralding the power of incentives, partnerships, and informational campaigns as complements—or even alternatives—to legislation. The Stop Wasting Food movement and the upcoming World Food Summit hosted annually in Copenhagen are examples of such creative and engaging measures
These various remarks demonstrated not only that the pandemic has exacerbated food system challenges contributing to food loss, waste, and food insecurity, but also that these challenges are shared across geopolitical borders. Understanding best practices for addressing these issues deployed in other countries may help inform a more holistic, global approach to both short-term pandemic responses and to long-term efforts to repair disrupted food supply chains. FLPC and GFN welcome the continuation of a critical and open conversation in the upcoming sessions, which focus on Exploring the Role of Liability Protection in Facilitating Increased Food Donation, and The Impact of Date Labeling on Food Waste, Food Recovery, and Donation. FLPC invites government officials and policymakers from international and multilateral organizations to reach out for further information at email@example.com.