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In the land of plenty, people go hungry–and discarded food abounds

In an ideal world, no one goes to bed hungry or sleeps in the warmth provided only by cardboard. For those who do, the world the rest of us live in may seem strangely privileged.

But we, like you, share this world with the hungry. We are never far away from them, really. And it is that simple reality, I believe, that requires us to share more than just proximity.

I am talking about how food banks and non-profit organizations play a vital role in helping California families who struggle most to keep food on the table.

Helping those efforts are a variety of federal and state laws designed to support food banks and non-profit organizations. One existing California law, for example, limits liability for injuries resulting from the consumption of donated food that is fit for human consumption at the time it was donated.

Despite these successes, a December 2004 study by the California Environmental Protection Agency found that discarded food was the most prevalent single material in state landfills-accounting for a whopping 5.8 million tons in 2003.

This statistic is troubling considering several factors.

–Across the state, landfills are filling to capacity. Finding, opening and operating new ones is becoming increasingly more difficult and costly. Food that ends up in our landfills causes severe environmental harm and is the largest contributor to methane-gas production. This waste also causes odor as it decomposes, in addition to attracting flies and vermin.

–In 2003, the UCLA Center for Health and Policy Research released a report showing more than 2.9 million low-income adults in California lacked sufficient resources to adequately put food on the table.

–The correlation between wasted food and hungry families in the state presents a unique problem considering the increasing price of food. According to news reports published statewide, basic food supplies, particularly flour, milk and eggs, have increased at least 24 percent for the year ending last February. Sadly, increases in food prices are sure to continue.

Senate Bill 1443, by state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, should help by cutting the amount of food thrown away. Specifically, SB 1443 would require food facilities to include language in their contracts that gives customers the option of authorizing the food facility to either donate leftover food to a non-profit organization or to give leftover food back to the paying customer.

We support Senator Oropeza's laudable efforts to help keep food out of our landfills and onto the kitchen table of Californians having trouble making ends meet.

One interesting argument against SB 1443 is the charge that it constrains a food facility's ability in customizing their contracts. The truth is that this bill is not prescriptive; it simply states that the contract must have language that allows the customer to decide how leftover food should be handled.

Underscoring the need for this common-sense bill is an unpleasant reality: There are people in this state who regularly go to bed hungry, many of them children. At the same time, there is food-tons of it-that is going to waste. There should be an easy way to get that food to those that need it, rather than into trash cans.  We believe those who prepare, purchase or consume large quantities of food have a responsibility to help.

The Foodbank of Southern California supports SB 1443, and we look forward to its passage. If you agree, please contact Oropeza's office at tomasa.duenas@sen.ca.gov


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