Food donation can serve as a vital solution to the challenges of global hunger and food waste. It redirects safe, surplus food that would otherwise be lost or wasted onto the plates of those who need it most. Yet uncertainty surrounding food donation laws and policies is hindering the expansion of food banks and food recovery organizations.
To help address the most pressing legal questions and operational barriers to food donation around the world, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) launched The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas in February 2019. This two-year partnership aims to pave the way for the expansion of food donation by:
Identifying and explaining national laws related to food donation in 14 countries (Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States);
Analyzing the most common legal barriers to greater food donation in these countries and sharing best practices for overcoming them; the legal issues examined are outlined below.
The country-specific findings and recommendations of the project can be found on the Library page. The interactive Quick-view atlas enables users to easily compare food donation laws and policies among countries. You can also view the Methodology and download a one-page summary of the project.
FLPC and GFN have identified the following legal issues as the most critical to food donation. These issues have been examined in each country that is part of the The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas.
Food safety for donations: A key barrier to food donation can be the lack of knowledge or readily available guidance regarding safety procedures for donated food. All donated food should be safe for consumption and comply with applicable food safety laws and regulations. Potential donors, however, are often uncertain as to which food safety regulations apply to donated food and the steps necessary to comply.
Date labeling: Date labels affixed to food products are a major driver of food waste and an obstacle to food donation. Most food donors and food recovery organizations are appropriately cautious about donating food that may no longer be safe, but it is not always clear whether the date label accompanied by language such as “sell by,” “expires on,” or “best by” relates to food safety. In fact, date labels are generally intended to reflect freshness or quality rather than food safety for the vast majority of foods.
Liability protection for food donations: A significant barrier to food donation is the fear among donors that they will be found liable if someone becomes sick after consuming donated food. Some countries have adopted liability protections to mitigate this concern. However, many food donors and food recovery organizations are uncertain as to whether they are eligible for this protection, whether there are actions required to maintain the protection, and what limits, if any, apply.
Tax incentives and tax barriers: Transportation and storage costs are often cited as the main expenses that manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants need to overcome to donate food. Tax incentives, including deductions and credits, can help to offset these financial inputs and help make donation a more attractive, affordable option. The application of certain taxes to donated food, such as the value-added tax, however, can also create a barrier to donation.
Donation requirements or food waste penalties: Some countries have employed food donation requirements or impose monetary penalties for food that is sent to landfills (often known as organic waste bans or waste taxes) in order to influence business behavior and promote more sustainable food systems.
Government grants and incentives: Grants and incentive programs funded at the national or local level offer another important resource for food donation initiatives. This is particularly true in countries where donors consider tax incentives to be insufficient to offset the costs of donation or where a lack of infrastructure limits food recovery efforts.
Since 2010, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) has served partner organizations and communities by providing guidance on cutting-edge food system issues while engaging and educating law students in the practice of food law and policy. FLPC is committed to advancing a cross-sector, multidisciplinary, and inclusive approach to its work, building partnerships with academic institutions, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, private-sector actors, and civil society with expertise in public health, the environment, and the economy. FLPC’s work focuses on increasing access to healthy foods, supporting sustainable production and regional food systems, promoting community-led food system change, and reducing waste of healthy, wholesome food.
The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is an international non-profit organization that nourishes the world’s hungry through uniting and advancing food banks in 44 countries. GFN focuses on combating hunger and preventing food waste by providing expertise, directing resources, sharing knowledge and developing connections that increase efficiency, ensure food safety and reach more people facing hunger. In 2019, food banks distributed 1.4 billion meals, feeding 16.9 million people through a network of more than 56,000 social service and community-based organizations.
The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas was made possible through funding by the Walmart Foundation. The findings, conclusions, and recommendations presented on this website and in materials contained therein are those of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Walmart Foundation.