Rep. Morrissette, Sen. McAffrey push Anti-Hunger Act

Two Oklahoma City Democrats are working to provide a way for un-served restaurant food to be donated to feed the poor, rather than go to waste because potential donors have fears of liability. House Bill 1418, which has cleared the House and headed to the Senate, would address ambiguities in both state and federal law. 

“We know from studies that hunger is most likely the cause of poverty rather than poverty the cause of hunger. Pitifully, our state all too often proves this theory. So, to have these misunderstandings in the law that lead to donors throwing millions of pounds of safe edible food in the land fill is a tragedy,” commented the bill’s author, state Rep. Richard Morrissette, a south Oklahoma City Democrat.

Among other provisions, the act directs the state Department of Human Services to promulgate rules to allow seniors to take left over food home from senior nutrition centers. Also, both public schools and senior centers would be able to receive donated non-perishable packaged foods and to take donated fresh fruits and vegetables.

A 1996 federal law provided liability protection to those giving away food, including restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and other venues. Subsequently, some policy issues emerged involving food allergens. Legislation passed in 2004 (the Food Safety in Labeling and Packaging Act) required manufacturers to list known allergen content for peanuts, shellfish, and other common allergies. State statutes would be updated to reflect that requirement if H.B. 1418 is enacted.

Sources say that owners of Oklahoma restaurants willing to donate have had little guidance on the liability issue and tend to donate sporadically and without public notice as to draw as little attention as possible. “Restaurants should now feel secure in making donation of un-served portions to non-profits for redistribution as long as they offer reference to the fact that some prepared foods that no longer bear a label could contain allergens,” said Morrissette, in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK.

Oklahoma State University has helped prepare a complete list of allergens that could be posted at distribution sites, on websites and in other literature for use by donors and those who re-distribute foods.

Morrissette reflected, “All of us take home doggy bags…how is this any different?”

Joey Abbo, founder of the NEEDS Foundation, a local charity re-directing donated food, says the “daily discard” from state restaurants could positively impact hunger in Oklahoma, even end it for some. 

Morrissette notes that schools and groups such as the Regional Food Bank have established “peanut tables” in serving areas so that known allergens can be avoided for those with allergies – a matter than his legislation addresses. 

State Sen. Al McAffrey, a MidTown Democrat, is carrying the bill now that it has advanced to the upper chamber.

The measure is named in honor of Josephine Meade, a housewife and mother who during the Depression collected discarded bits of food and sacks of flour to home cook meals for displaced workers and others fleeing the Dust Bowl. She served meals daily from her back porch.

Morrissette commented further, “We’re just coming out of the second worst economic period in our nation’s history. And, if that’s not enough, I think we are also forgetting previous lessons learned about food waste as hundreds of Depression era survivors leave us every day. Oklahoma is one of the hungriest places in America with more than one half million food insecure and another seventy 6,000 with severe food disruption.”

Morrisette told CapitolBeatOK he is hopeful the support of the Needs Foundation, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and beloved Thunder guard Russell Westbrook will help advance the measure to the governor’s desk. 

NOTE: Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.