How big a problem is food waste in the U.S.? The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture estimates 10 percent of the available food supply is wasted at the retail level, and 20% of what is purchased is wasted in the home. To put that into perspective, more than $160 billion worth of food is wasted every year in America.
My post, Fruits and Vegetables: Pretty Isn’t Always Better, covered donations of food to food banks, shelters and individuals, and this one follows up with a discussion of donations to small farmers for feeding livestock. The best known example, and perhaps the largest such operation in the world, is Bob Combs, a pig farmer who feeds his pigs food waste from Las Vegas hotels, but for this post we will limit our interest to small poultry flocks.
I’ve had people express frustration at restaurants and stores that refuse to donate scrap or surplus produce to feed chickens and other poultry, citing restrictions from the health department as their reason for not doing so. I began an investigation to find out what, if any, restrictions or guidelines there are concerning donating scrap/surplus food for feeding backyard or small farm poultry.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations state, “If surplus food provided to animals contains no meat or animal materials, federal laws or regulations do not apply, although there may be state laws that regulate such feeding.”
The EPA website says one should “contact the county agricultural extension office, state veterinarian, or county health department to find out about specific state regulations” when asking for or considering donating produce to local farmers.
They also say facilities that do choose to donate such waste may qualify for a tax deduction or at least see smaller expenditures in disposing of such food by donating it rather than sending it to a landfill.
Their instructions make it sound simple – pick up the phone make a couple of calls and you’re done, but it isn’t that simple. Each state’s Department of Public Health is made up of multiple bureaus, multiple divisions and hundreds of individuals. There isn’t one magic number one can call to get information from Public Health. The first hurdle is deciding what bureau and division to call, and second is realizing that not every individual has the answer to all requests for information. Be prepared to keep calling until you get someone on the phone who can provide the information you seek.
I have worked for Public Health, and it still required diligent research to determine which bureau, if any, would govern the donation or acceptance of such produce. The Office of Food, Milk, and Lodging (responsible for restaurant inspections) knew of no restrictions and referred me to the Meat Inspector with the Department of Agriculture and Industries.
I phoned that office and posed the question and was told there were no known regulations/restrictions, but my question was referred to a department supervisor for verification. I did not hear anything further.
No one at my county extension office could offer me any answers, but they did refer me to the regional extension agent for food safety who provided a pamphlet from the state cooperative extension service on basic feeding for chickens. The pamphlet did not address the subject of this post. Upon further questioning, she said she was 95 percent sure there were no regulations regarding the disposal of produce from restaurants. She then referred me to the county environmentalist.
I searched to find our state veterinarian and inquired of him via email whether or not there are any regulations or restrictions that might prevent a facility from making such a donation. I did not receive a reply. Auburn University’s School of Poultry Science was also contacted.
After contacting every office that could possibly supply information on laws, restrictions or guidelines on the donation of, or acceptance of, food scraps for backyard poultry, one must conclude that there are none. Neither the environmental people nor the meat inspectors, who I was told would be the “go to” source for such information, offered any reason for not donating or accepting food waste for poultry flocks. That still leaves business owners the option of complying with such a request, or not, as they choose, but their choice is their own and is not based on any health guidelines, at least not in my state.