Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway: Food Waste from Field to Table

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Washington, May 25, 2016 | comments

Remarks as prepared: 

Since I became chairman of the House Agriculture Committee at the beginning of last year, we’ve held more than 70 hearings and have invited a broad range of experts, including people in the field, to share their knowledge on everything from the futures markets to farmers markets.

The committee doesn’t agree all the time on every issue, but one of the reasons we’re able to work in a bipartisan manner is that we remember well-meaning people can have different ideas about how to achieve the same goal, whatever the issue may be. Because we have a different way of getting there doesn't mean one of us is wrong – and this is something we’re losing sight of in America today. Good public policy is not a zero-sum game. If advocates, Members, whoever it may be are close-minded and unopened to compromise, it all but ensures retention of the status quo regardless of the issue.

An example of where we are engaging a variety of stakeholders is in this review of food waste. I commend my colleague from Maine, Chellie Pingree for putting this on the Congressional radar.  Today’s hearing may be the first time the House Agriculture Committee is publicly engaging on this issue, but it will not be the last.

Forty percent of the food grown in this country is wasted. That amounts to 133 billion pounds of food being wasted. That is billion with a B! Considering we have 45 million people currently receiving food assistance through SNAP, I believe this is a tremendous opportunity for us to take a closer look at our food chain and figure out a way to ensure that food grown in this country reaches the dinner table, not the trashcan. 

Speaking two weeks ago at a food waste summit, Secretary Vilsack commented that avoiding food waste loss could save U.S. families on average $1,500 a year, and limiting food waste globally could help prevent hunger and malnourishment in the 825 million to 850 million people worldwide who are not getting adequate food.

Tackling food waste in this country is, and should be a non-partisan issue that will be most successful by engaging everyone in the food chain, from field to table. It will take the collaboration of all stakeholders to be successful.

As we begin this review, we will undoubtedly identify issues that seem easy to resolve, yet are more complex than they appear. We will likewise identify other issues that have already been addressed, but simply require collaboration and what amounts to a public relations campaign to raise awareness. 

Two such issues that Congress has acted upon that we should highlight today are the recently enacted permanent tax deduction for food donations and the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.  The permanent tax deduction for food donations was identified in recent legislation and was enacted as part of the last omnibus.

The second issue is one we hear an awful lot about, yet was addressed years ago by our former colleague and a vice chairman of this committee, the late Bill Emerson. Many businesses, when given the opportunity to donate perfectly safe and wholesome food, are reluctant because of liability concerns. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, enacted in 1996 fully addresses this concern. I wish to place into the record a Memorandum Opinion drafted by the Department of Justice for the USDA General Counsel that not only spells out the direct protection of the Emerson Act, but also describes the preemptive effect on State laws that may not provide the same level of protection.

When we began preparing for this hearing, we reached out to Representative Pingree whom I am happy is here with us today and will shortly offer some introductory comments of her own. The witnesses that were invited represent a broad range of perspectives and expertise, but in no way represent the entirety of the community that is addressing this challenge. While this hearing is just one element of our review, we will also invite Members and staff, as well as other interested stakeholders to attend an event later this afternoon here in this hearing room on the balcony to see firsthand what some organizations are doing to address food waste. That event will begin at approximately 1:30 this afternoon.

I will now recognize our ranking member, Rep. Peterson for his opening remarks.
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