When Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced July 1 that the USDA will sponsor a "National Summit on Food Recovery and Gleaning" in September to discuss reducing the amount of food Americans throw away, many saw it as just another attempt by the Administration to do little while appearing to do a lot.
It was that, of course, but it was something else, too: perhaps the clearest example yet of the Administration's utter rout of the GOP Congress when it comes to public relations. That's because the Congress has already tackled the issue of thrown-away food, and done so far more effectively than any hand-wringing conference ever could.
What Congress did was pass a law last September 5, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, to require states to adopt legislation to protect nonprofit organizations which donate food in good faith from liability in cases when the donated food causes harm to the recipient. The bill requires consistent liability regulations for all states but does not protect the donor in cases of gross negligence or harmful intent.
This Congressional success was no small potatoes to food recovery efforts. Second Harvest, with 181 regional food banks the nation's largest domestic hunger relief charity, polled 248 food company donors and 41 non-donors in 1995 and found that among non-donors, fear of incurring liability was the major reason companies would not donate food. In 1995 the Southland Corporation, which owns 7-11, gave away 1.5 million tons of food, but only after their lawyers painstakingly analyzed the laws in each state. This year, with state laws standardized, Southland will give away 4 million pounds of food. Referring to the new law by its nickname, Sharon Neal of Southland says "Good Sam has made a big difference for us, because we don't have to go through a big rigmarole." Martin Ramey, marketing director of Food Chain, a food-rescue program that will distribute more than 100 million pounds of food this year, agrees: "I'm amazed at the impact Good Sam is playing."
Congress made a big difference. Yet how many Americans realize this? Not many. A search of America's top 50 newspapers during the month following the bill's passage showed that only two told their readers about it. But Dan Glickman's announcement that the USDA will sponsor a "National Summit on Food Recovery and Gleaning" has been carried coast-to-coast.
July 3, 1997
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