Food Donor Tax Incentive

So this is kind of old news, but we aren’t done with it yet, so I thought I’d write a few words on the food donor tax incentive.

A few years ago I probably would have thought that this is a great idea. And probably a lot of people who want to see it implemented everywhere have their hearts in the right place. But I have some big problems with this incentive. Maybe some of these can be addressed with some ‘fine print’ like making sure it’s enforced and represented properly.

My problems with the tax incentives are:
– First, why should big food businesses (mostly retailers) get $ for dumping their unwanted surplus food onto charities? Why not fine them for putting good food in the garbage (it’s illegal in France, although the result is that that French supermarkets have arrangements where they give their excess food to charity anyway), or better yet, fine them for implementing irresponsible practices that are known to lead to preventable food waste? We need to prevent food waste before it happens rather than just ‘recover and redistribute’ food that’s practically on its way to a landfill…
You could also go with the ‘carrot’ approach if you like (oh fine, go be nice to the corporations…it’s probably more effective anyway) and incentivize businesses to implement the types of procurement practices and relationships with manufacturers/producers – as well as the kinds of marketing/storage/sales practices – that are likely to minimize waste. i.e. make it pay off for them to avoid waste to begin with.

– Secondly, charities have a tough time sorting through these unsolicited donations and sometimes have to pay to dispose of them because they’re moldy or rotted. (They may look good at first glance, but a lot of the donations of food dumped onto charities are not safe to eat by the time they arrive.) It’s sometimes an undue burden on the charities, who may feel pressured to take (bad or less-than-useful) donations so that they don’t damage relationships with the public. Which is why, once again, I say that it’s better to avoid food waste than to encourage food retailers to say to themselves, ‘Well let’s continue with business as usual, over-purchase for the full-shelf effect, and then we can just donate the excess to charity…and get a nice tax incentive!’

– Thirdly, the tax shouldn’t be represented as a way to solve hunger, because it doesn’t. That’s false advertising. Yes, we landfill (or compost) a lot of food and it makes intuitive sense that if we could funnel it into the mouths of hungry people, we’d solve hunger, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. Redistribution is arguably putting recovered foods to a better use than sending it to the landfill, but it’s no solution to systemic causes of hunger like poverty, unemployment, dependence on an increasingly unstable pool of waged work in order to feed oneself (gig economy anyone?), and so on. It’s also not a reliable source of food for hungry people. Free meals are usually available sporadically, and the quality and nutritional content varies widely. This is not a criticism of charities that distribute free food – most of them do what they can with what they’re given – it’s just reality.


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