Hearing on NYC Food Bills Draws Scores of Supporters, Few Critics

July 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment

New Yorkers showed overwhelming support for two food-related bills at a public hearing convened last month by the New York City Council Governmental Affairs Division.  The proposed bills back recommendations in a plan to revamp the city’s food system and make local and regional food more available to New Yorkers.  The plan was outlined in an 86-page report, FoodWorks, released by NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn last year.

One of the proposed bills would require city agencies to provide annual metrics on the food they procure, including where the food comes from.  The other calls for the creation of a searchable, public database of all city-owned and leased property, which would help community groups identify underutilized land that might be used for gardening and urban farming.

Scores of organizations turned out to testify in support of the bills, including Just Food, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Food Systems Network NYC, and Farming Concrete.

Advocates of the bills cited environmental, health and economic reasons for their support.

“New York State is losing an astounding 70 acres of farmland every day,” said Mark Izeman, director of the New York Urban Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in his testimony.  “By supporting local farms and increasing our purchasing of regional food, we can act now to preserve important undeveloped farmland surrounding the City that protects the landscape, natural resources and wildlife habitat.”

Critics, however, noted logistical and other challenges. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services noted that some of the data called for in the food metrics bill would be difficult or impossible to obtain.

“Some of the proposed metrics involve working with complex information sets, or require information from third parties, including small businesses, who themselves don’t track the information requested,” said Kim Kessler, food policy coordinator for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.

The proposed food metrics report would require information such as the estimated annual energy usage at the Hunts Point Produce Market and the country and state of origin of all essential components in foods procured by city agencies.

The biggest opponent was the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the agency that would keep and maintain the database of all city-owned and leased property.  The agency argued that it would not be able to ensure the integrity of the data as it responsible for only 4 of the 74 data fields the bill requires.  Most of the data fields — things like property size in square feet, tax block and lot number, and current use — are collected and maintained by other city agencies.

“DCAS has no authority over other agencies to certify that the data is produced and transmitted,” said Randal Fong, first assistant commissioner of Asset Management for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The NYC Council Governmental Affairs Division was not able to give a timeframe as to when the bills will be put to a vote.

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