ELMIRA - Republican Senator Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, announced Friday he is co-sponsoring legislation to incentivize New York’s food industry to cut down on food waste by donating their surpluses to local food banks and pantries.

Food waste makes up the single largest material found in landfills and sent to waste incinerators in the United States, according to O'Mara.

He said the legislative proposal would establish 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.

“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,” O’Mara said.

The legislative proposal would build on last year’s action.

O’Mara joined other legislators and anti-hunger advocates in 2017, including the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, to help secure the enactment in the 2017-2018 state budget of a tax credit of up to $5,000 to farmers who donate fresh produce to food banks and other emergency food providers.

The tax credit, commonly known as the “Farm to Food Bank” tax credit, helped offset the cost of picking, packaging and delivering the fresh produce to food banks and pantries.

“We are grateful for Senator O’Mara’s commitment to the issue of hunger and food insecurity, and his partnership in our efforts to end hunger in the Southern Tier,” said Natasha R. Thompson, President & CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. “This legislation will create an incentive for businesses to donate their surplus food rather than send it to the landfill, which will have a significant impact on our ability to source more food to feed more people in our community.”

In early December, the New York Farm Bureau announced that state farmers donated more than nine million pounds of fresh food and farm products in 2017, an amount which equals more than seven million meals to those in need. Farm and food advocates expect donations to increase in 2018 because of the new Farm to Food Bank tax credit.

The Food Bank of the Southern Tier serves seven regional counties -- Broome, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins – covering nearly 4,000 square miles. 

In 2016 the organization distributed more than 11.5 million pounds of food and grocery items through approximately 160 partner agencies, including food pantries, meal programs, shelters, and after-school and senior programs.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that between thirty and forty percent of the nation’s food supply goes to waste. In 2016, The Guardian newspaper reported that over 60 million tons of food, worth over $100 billion, go to waste in the United States every year. 

Additionally, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reports that food waste currently accounts for nearly a quarter of methane emissions from the nation’s landfills. Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.