Food Waste:

An Opportunity To Improve Resource Use

CED-77-118: Published: Sep 16, 1977. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1977.

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About 20% of all food produced in the United States is lost or wasted in a year, amounting to about $31 billion. Losses occur during harvest, storage, transportation, processing, at the wholesale/retail level, and at restaurants, institutions, and households.

Large losses occurred at the consumption level, both institutional and household. Uneaten food thrown away (plate waste) is a problem in the National School Lunch Programs, and similar waste has been reported in all group feeding situations. The Department of Agriculture's food stamp program contains an allowance for some food to be discarded. It was estimated that, for 1977, 1% of waste would result in a food loss of $50 million. The Department has given only limited financial support to research to make reduction of loss economically feasible. Households discarded the most edible food, worth $11.7 billion. Research on loss showed that households with good knowledge of food safety have less waste. Reducing food loss would: improve the productivity and efficiency of the food system; increase food production for a given level of land, fertilizer, energy, and related factors; and provide an opportunity for feeding the hungry. Changes in tax laws have eliminated some incentives to donations of food.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should: undertake a comprehensive study of the magnitude and causes of loss and focus research attention in promising areas; determine the extent and causes of waste among food stamp recipients and in Department-supported feeding programs and take remedial action as appropriate; review priorities given to research activities devoted to loss reduction; undertake educational efforts that are found to be related to elimination of household waste; and review opportunities for encouraging charitable donations of food by extending tax benefits or by other programs.

    Agency Affected:


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