Gov. Cuomo Signs Food Bills

Dec 23, 2013

Credit Karen DeWitt

A broad coalition of farming, conservation and environmental organizations are applauding Governor Andrew Cuomo for approving legislation that will strengthen the state’s local-food economy and protect New York farms.

The coalition is excited that Cuomo has approved food-related bills, hailing them as "good for farmers and consumers."  Mark Dunlea is Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State.  "The one we've been working on the hardest had been to get the state to begin to collect data on how much local food they were actually purchasing."

The Food Metrics Bill calls for state agencies to establish a tracking and reporting system for their food purchases that will provide baseline data about where food is procured and how much money is being spent on it.  Laura Ten Eyck, Senior Manager of New York Projects and Outreach for American Farmland Trust, points out that New York serves a lot of food through state-run institutions like universities, hospitals, prisons and cafeterias in state office buildings.  "But we really don't have any idea where the food is necessarily coming from that they're serving. There's no geographic tracking of the sourcing."

Ten Eyck believes there will be an economic stimulus as the state purchases more food from local farms to serve through the various outlets, with the added benefit of serving the customers fresh, nutritious locally-grown food.  New York League of Conservation Voters spokesman Dan Hendrick points out that while many people are looking to "buy local" food, local farms are struggling.  "The first step is to understand where we are right now and find out how much local food the state government is purchasing right now. The second part of the bill is focused on setting up guidelines for state agencies that want to have more local food."

The new law requires the Office of General Services and the Department of Agriculture and Markets to set guidelines for state agencies on increasing their purchase of local foods. Successful bidders on state food contracts would also have to provide the type, dollar value, and geographic origin of all their food to the procuring agency.  Prior to the new law, New York had no reliable data on the amount of food it purchases in- and out-of-state. Again, Mark Dunlea:  "And then we were somewhat surprised to see that legislation to strengthen the New York State Office of Community Gardens was also signed. That was an issue we first helped over 25 years ago when Senator Bruno was the lead sponsor. The bill recognizes the value of community gardens and providing access to healthy food for low income people but also particularly in urban areas."

Another food-related measure signed by the governor is one of transparency: it requires the Department of Health to post inspection results of public food service establishments on its website for the most recent three years. Consumers will be able to see how such eateries have been graded by health inspectors.