MEDIA ADVOCACY: “EXPIRED? Food Waste in America”

The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and Racing Horse Productions produced EXPIRED as a collaborative effort between two programs at Harvard Law School: one that aims to test and teach media advocacy techniques in the context of real world practice and one that aims to provide hands-on opportunities for students to learn about and improve the laws and policies shaping the food system. Students worked with clinical faculty and a team of professional filmmakers to plan, produce, edit, and distribute the video. Our approach to teaching and learning focused on strengthening legal media advocacy skills – empowering students to tell compelling stories in tactically and legally sophisticated ways to effectively sway public opinion and affect policy change. Students involved in this project were enrolled in the FLPC and worked on this film as a media advocacy component of their greater project of conducting legal and policy research, educating consumers and policymakers, and pushing for policy change to reduce the waste of healthy, wholesome foods in the United States. 

In the spring of 2015, our team traveled to Missoula, Montana to understand the impact of their highly restrictive date-labeling law for milk. This law has been in effect since 1980. It requires all milk to bear a “sell by” label that is dated twelve days from the date of pasteurization and mandates that such milk be removed from shelves once the date arrives. As a result, countless gallons of milk on grocery shelves gets needlessly discarded, out-of-state dairies have difficulty selling their products in grocery stores in Montana, and consumers suffer because milk in Montana costs around 40% more than the national average.

But while this is the most restrictive state law in the country for milk, it is far from the only state law imposing sell-by requirements on manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. FLPC research has shown that 41 states require date labels on at least certain food products, and 20 states then restrict or ban the sale or donation of foods after that date. Our team understands this patchwork of state laws and regulations as part of a national problem –- one that creates customer confusion, limits retailers’ ability to sell or donate wholesome food, and causes unnecessary food waste. It is also a problem that requires creative problem solving to address. 

In response to this challenge, we are working on a call for a uniform, federal standard for date label language that is easily comprehended by consumers, and differentiates between food quality and food safety. We believe EXPIRED is central to this effort, and will be a powerful catalyst for change, offering a visual and visceral understanding of the problem, raising awareness about ways to combat it, and engaging key stakeholders in the issue.

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