ALBANY — State Sen. Tom O’Mara said food waste makes up the single largest material found in landfills and sent to waste incinerators in the United States.

Worse, he said, much of it could be used to help feed the hungry.

“We need to keep taking commonsense actions like this one to stop perfectly good, fresh, nutritious food from ending up in landfills and waste incinerators and, at the same time, to help combat hunger,” said O’Mara, former chair and current member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

O’Mara, R-58 of Big Flats, is co-sponsor of Republican legislation that would incentivize the state’s food industry to cut down on food waste by donating their surpluses to local food banks and pantries.

Sen. Sue Serino, R-41 of Hyde Park, is the principal sponsor. Sen. Pam Helming, R-54 of Canandaigua, is another co-sponsor from the Finger Lakes region.

O’Mara noted that in 2017, he and other legislators helped secure a tax credit of up to $5,000 to farmers who donate fresh produce to food banks and other emergency food providers. Commonly known as the Farm to Food Bank tax credit, it helps offset the cost of picking, packaging and delivering the fresh produce to food banks and pantries, O’Mara said.

The tax credit is working, he added. In December 2018, the New York Farm Bureau announced that state farmers donated nearly 11 million pounds of fresh food and farm products to regional food banks. That amount was up by close to 2 million pounds from the year before and equaled about 9 million meals, he noted.

He said the current bill would build on that action by establishing a tax credit of up to $5,000 for grocery stores, food brokers, wholesalers, restaurateurs or catering services that donate surplus or about-to-waste food to local food banks and pantries.

O’Mara said there is a great opportunity to reduce the amount of food waste and feed people.

He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates between 30 and 40 percent of the nation’s food supply goes to waste. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency said food waste accounts for nearly a quarter of methane emissions from the nation’s landfills, including the two in the Finger Lakes region — Seneca Meadows and the Ontario County Landfill.

There currently are no Democratic sponsors of the legislation.

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