Insights Livestock

Farmer’s Daughter: Here’s why California ranchers care about food-waste legislation


Oops … California did it again.

More specifically, it’s considering doing it again. Assemblymember Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) authored Assembly Bill 2959 and introduced it back in February. The legislation revises California’s Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989. The Act regulates the handling of solid waste, like leftover food. Currently, local governments are prohibited from exercising any authority over the hauling of these products if certain conditions are met.

Calderon’s bill restores local communities’ ability to regulate these byproducts when they originate from a retail or commercial establishment, including supermarkets, grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail-food establishments. If enacted, these local governments could contract with franchise haulers that typically use the waste as compost or send it to the landfill. The franchises would then have a local monopoly over the food waste, including its price.

The bill has generated a significant amount of pushback from a wide array of industries. The California Restaurant Association, California Grocers Association, California Retailers Association, California Farm Bureau, California Cattlemen’s Association and Western United Dairies all oppose this legislation. And they’ve all vowed to work against it.

Wait, why does agriculture care about food waste? I mean, it sucks that our hard work is squandered. But as long as we get paid why does it matter, right?

It matters because it’s all part of a larger economic system. The Environmental Protection Agency prioritizes wasted food as cattle feed over composting or landfills, an approach currently accomplished in California. Cattle producers have developed relationships with these local businesses. The food wasted is turned into feed for livestock all over the state. The livestock then do their jobs as “upcyclers” — they turn that wasted food into high-quality protein for humans.

The alternative for food waste is the landfill. And that contributes to environmental disaster. Rotting and decaying food significantly contributes to climate change, with some estimating that 10 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions come from food sent to the landfill.

A group of ag, food, and retail associations explained the concept in a letter to Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica):

Food processors, wineries, and retail food establishments have historically sent these organic waste materials to livestock producers and feed suppliers to be managed in environmentally beneficial ways. For example, bakeries send material to dairy farmers that de-package the products and feed directly to livestock and restaurants, and grocers send vegetables and scraps to feed companies. These practices keep costs down and comply with the state’s waste management goals by keeping the material out of landfills and have a far better (greenhouse gas) emissions profile.

So why in the world did Calderon and his cohorts propose such a bill?

Calderon isn’t seeking re-election. Ironically, despite his lengthy political career, I’ve had a hard time finding where he stands on any issues. Calderon has said he’s concerned about climate change, and he’s supported related legislation. But I can’t find anything where Calderon comments on AB2959 or its potential increase of greenhouse-gas emissions. I’m a little bit at a loss here.

So let’s assume his intentions were good. Maybe he thinks this legislation will actually help fight climate change. Or maybe he thinks this is a way for local governments to raise some extra money. Or maybe he supports landfills and composting.

But we all know where good intentions can lead. Maybe he thinks animal agriculture is the largest contributor to climate change (it isn’t). And he sees this legislation as an opportunity to raise prices on the food-waste market, cut out an important source of feed, and make things a little bit harder for producers to continue operating.

I don’t honestly know.

But this is what happens when legislators propose legislation without fully understanding the system already in place. And we see that often in agriculture (and, quite frankly, California). The intentions may be good, but the results would be a disaster. That’s why it is so important for lawmakers to consult with agricultural leaders and farmers. Given the lengthy list of organizations ardently opposed to this bill, I think we can assume that didn’t happen.


Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.

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