Increased food safety regs = less produce to people who need it most.
Dear allies in food recovery, community health, getting good food to good people, this is Suzi Grady, Program Director a Program of Petaluma Bounty.
I am writing you how a new state regulation AB 234 could curb gleaning efforts!
We need your attention on a matter dear to our hearts. New state-wide regulation is at the brink of being passed that will regulate out of existence crucial components of Petaluma Bounty’s gleaning program. AB 234 is a cleanup bill for AB 1990 and will be deliberated this Wednesday, June 24th. Some of the clean up measures we agree with but we’ve been trying to raise awareness of lawmakers that components of this bill will significantly reduce the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that we recover and share (donate) to low-income seniors and families.
Why are these new regulations going into place, you ask? Because County Environmental Health Regulators feel state and federal law mandate them to ensure all food sold or donated comes from an Approved Source and has complete traceability. And yet, they will not provide the CalCode that mandates them and are unwilling to slow down the process to consider unintended consequences and alternative approaches.
To be clear, we are committed to ensuring all people have access to safe food; yet we bring a different perspective to the table. Namely, that regardless of intent, the roll out of AB 234 will result in diminished food security, specifically reduced access to fresh fruits and vegetables for our low-income seniors and families. We work in communities where realities and health outcomes for citizens are shaped by the inequitable systems they are a part of. Regardless of intent, AB 234 will exacerbate inequitable access to fresh produce that our community’s most vulnerable face daily. Notwithstanding the concern regarding food safety, those of us working on the front lines with the food insecure know we must also factor in public health concerns related to hunger, malnutrition, obesity and other preventive health efforts. If lawmakers are truly concerned about the people who “are receiving their food for free”, it is crucial that they also hear expert opinions from other public health perspectives in order to make an informed decision that reflects a comprehensive appreciation for the actual risks, unintended consequences, and benefits of proposed legislation.
In many communities, the risk is greater that individuals will contract diet-related chronic disease (or secondary health ailments) than be exposed to food-borne diseases. We have been asked to consider the plight of a person that gets sick from a food-borne illness because traceability and Approved Source methods have not been implemented in all food distribution activities. But who speaks for the people who will surely go hungry, develop chronic diet-related diseases, become frail or worse because they were not able access unapproved community food at the benefit of a small number of people who could have been exposed to food-borne pathogens from gleaning and food recovery efforts? Furthermore, will those people be denied access to healthy fresh produce based on the potentially untested assumption that this one method of traceability and certifying Approved Sources is the best method to ensure food safety in all environments? Who currently is doing this research and has the answers to these critical questions? Shouldn’t law makers hear from these experts as well before making any decisions?
In two short weeks, it’s become clear that crucial voices have been missing at the table to inform the lawmakers’ conversation around community health. We are shocked to hear that our perspectives and concerns were not widely shared during the numerous conversations that we had with local enforcement agencies, public health leadership, farm-support agencies and parties involved in this bill. Which is why we are adamantly requesting your support and action, so we can return to the business of supporting our successful, community-wide efforts to ensure everyone has access to healthy (and safe) food.
We are not lobbyists. However, the increased regulatory burden and subsequent unintended negative consequences have become too great to ignore – we cannot ignore legislation that will force our community to throw away fresh food that people so desperately need.
I have attached a link to an online petition, as well as additional information on our website. Let us know if you have questions and input on legislative processes as this is not our forte.
PETALUMA BOUNTY a Program of PPSC
1500 Petaluma Blvd. South
Petaluma, CA 94952