2021 California Food Legislation

by Beth Kent*

            The California State Legislature is back in session, and legislators have introduced a number of bills related to food and agriculture. Many of these bills address food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of bills focus on sustainable agriculture, including phasing out pesticides and protecting agricultural lands. Governor Newsom’s proposed Budget also includes funding for a new approach to pesticide regulation that aims to catalyze the transition to safe and sustainable agriculture.

This is the beginning of the legislative cycle, and bill text and budget priorities are subject to change, but it is exciting to see so many bills that address food and agricultural issues. You can track your bill priorities here, and we will provide an update at the end of the session that summarizes the bills that are passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor.

Food and the Environment

  • AB-350 (Villapudua) would create a grant program to help landowners in the San Joaquin Valley’s “critically over-drafted basins” meet the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s water use reduction goals.
  • AB-352 (Rivas) proposes amendments to the California Farmland Conservancy Program to make the program more accessible to low-income, diverse, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
  • AB-391 (Villapudua) proposes appropriating $5 million from the Department of Food and Agriculture’s General Fund to provide technical assistance and grants to incentivize participation in state and federal conservation programs that integrate pollinator habitat and forage on working lands.
  • AB-567 (Bauer-Kahan) proposes expanding pesticide regulations to prohibit using neonicotinoids (a type of insecticide that is especially harmful to bees) on seeds and makes the use of neonicotinoids a misdemeanor.
  • AB-1086 (Aguiar-Curry) would require the California Natural Resources Agency to develop an implementation strategy to achieve the State’s organic waste, and related climate change and air quality, goals. The implementation strategy may include recommendations on policy and funding support for the beneficial reuse of organic waste.

Nutrition and Food Security

  • SB-364 (Skinner): Introduced by Senator Skinner and co-authored by Senators Eggman, Hertzberg, Laird, Limón, McGuire, Hueso, Newman, Wieckowski, and Wiener and Assembly Members Berman, Carrillo, Chiu, Cooley, Cooper, Cristina Garcia, Eduardo Garcia, Levine, Nazarian, Quirk-Silva, Reyes, Robert Rivas, Rodriguez, Santiago, Stone, and Villapudua, SB-364 proposes to establish a California Universal School Meal Program, which would continue to make school free breakfast and lunch programs available to all children beyond the COVID-19 public health crisis. It would also establish the Better Out of School Time (BOOST) Nutrition Program to prevent child hunger when schools are not in session.
  • AB-221 (Santiago, Chiu, and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Santiago, Chiu, and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Assembly Members Burke, Carrillo, Cristina Garcia, Gipson, Grayson, Kamlager, Luz Rivas, Stone, and Villapudua and Senators Rubio, Dodd, Durazo, and Wiener, AB-221is an urgency statue that would make food assistance benefits available to low-income California residents across the State, regardless of their immigration status. The bill also commissions a study to identify permanent solutions for low-income food assistance programs to address food insecurity throughout the State.
  • SB-108 (Hurtado) would declare that every human being has the right to access sufficient healthy food and require state agencies to revise and adopt policies accordingly.
  • AB-941 (Bennett and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Bennett and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Senators Limón and Dodd and Assembly Member Medina, AB-941would establish a grant program to create farmworker resources centers. Resource centers would provide farmworkers and their families information and access to services related to education, housing, payroll and wage rights, and health and human services.
  • AB-1009 (Bloom) would establish the Farm to School Food Hub Program, which would incentivize the creation and permanency of farm to school hubs. Hubs would function as nonprofit aggregators and supply chain intermediaries to distribute food products from farms or ranches to public institutions and nonprofit organizations. The goals of the program are promote food access and to increase the amount of agricultural products available to underserved communities and schools.
  • SB-20 (Dodd) would increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/CalFresh Benefits for low-income community college students by requiring the Student Aid Commission to notify students of their CalFresh eligibility. These requirements are intended to educate students about the availability of CalFresh benefits and to help address food insecurity among low-income community college students.
  • AB-543 (Davies): Introduced by Davies and coauthored by Dodd, AB-543 would require California universities to provide information about CalFresh to all incoming students as part of campus orientation.
  • AB-508 (L. Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez): Introduced by Assembly Members Luz Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez and coauthored by Assembly Members Kalra, Bauer-Kahan, Boerner Horvath, and Eduardo Garcia, AB-508 would expand school meal programs by requiring school districts and county superintendents to provide free meals for students who are eligible to receive reduced-priced meals.
  • AB-558 (Nazarian) would create the California School Plant-Based Food and Beverage Program, which would provide reimbursements to school districts that provide plant-based options as part of free and reduced-price school meal programs. This bill could have positive health and environmental benefits by increasing access to plant-based food.
  • AB-368 (Bonta): Introduced by Assembly Member Bonta and coauthored by Assembly Members Chiu and Wicks, AB-368 would establish a pilot program to provide prescriptions for medically supportive food. Eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries could receive vouchers to redeem specific foods that can alleviate or treat medical conditions, such a diabetes and hypertension.

*Beth Kent is an Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law for 2020-2022. She earned her J.D. from UCLA School of Law with a specialization in Public Interest Law & Policy from the Epstein Program, and she actively participated in UCLA Law’s environmental and food law programs.

Food Policy with Senator Tom Harkin – a Repast Interview

We are so pleased to share this terrific new episode of Repast, where Michael Roberts interviews Senator Tom Harkin on his years in Congress and his significant impact on food policy, the Harkin Institute and its focus on wellness and nutrition–including the Institute’s upcoming symposium on food as medicine--and the opportunities Senator Harkin sees for food policy with the Biden administration.

You can listen to the episode here.

Repast – A New Podcast Series from the Resnick Center

by Diana Winters

The Resnick Center is excited to share our new monthly podcast series, Repast, where we will interview a thought leader in the field of food law and policy to discuss past achievements, current developments, and future challenges.

In the first episode, Michael Roberts interviews Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on his new book, Salt Wars: The Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet.  Salt Wars describes the long struggle to reduce the dangerous levels of sodium in the American diet, and explains how industry has fought efforts to regulate salt.  In this episode, Roberts and Jacobson discuss the harms of salt, government inaction, and the exceptional nature of food regulation in the United States.

You can listen to Repast here, and buy Salt Wars here.

P.S. My 12-year-old son, Ike wrote and performed the music for the podcast, so listen for that if nothing else. 🙂

The Small Farm in a Big Food System

by Evan Graham Arango*

Our modern food system prioritizes efficiency and scalability over all other considerations. The result is a highly mechanized and centralized system capable of producing and distributing staggering amounts of food at low cost to consumers.  The majority of food is packaged and handled by a small number of very large processing plants.  Most of this food is produced, controlled and distributed by an even smaller number of giant corporations.  This preference for efficiency, which has shaped the landscape of our modern food system just as it has the physical landscape of our country, comes with tradeoffs that have been largely ignored by our law and policymakers for far too long.  Specifically, the relaxed enforcement of antitrust regulations in the food sector has caused intensive centralization of our food cultivation and distribution system.  Small-scale organic and regenerative farms can significantly impact local food systems in a more robust and sustainable manner.

Degradation of farmland, food contamination, worker safety, climate change, and even intentional attack are some of the primary risks that derive from having such a highly centralized food system.  From an environmental perspective, our soil, water and ecosystems have paid a heavy and easily overlooked price from the agglomeration of power in the food industry.  Moreover, the pandemic has exposed some of these risks and has highlighted both the immediate and long-term need to build into our food system qualities like adaptability, diversification and sustainability.  While the pandemic forcefully brought issues like worker safety, food waste, and food security to the front page headlines, these issues ultimately stem from deeply rooted legal and policy decisions that have invariably favored centralization and efficiency over sustainability and security.  The pandemic has not caused these problems, it has simply revealed just how vulnerable the system is on a national and global scale. This system will only continue to be tested as the Earth’s climate becomes less predictable, soils less fertile, and the number of people to feed increases. I see new technologies and production techniques, along with more small-scale food producers, as promising solutions to many of the risks our food system faces. 

I recently had the opportunity to visit Steadfast Farm in Mesa, Arizona, which provides a great example of how farmers, developers and local governments can work together to create robust and flourishing local food production systems. Here, farmer Erich Shultz partnered with developers to create a profitable one-acre vegetable farm in the heart of a suburban development community.  The farm is beautifully landscaped into the community and serves as an attraction for new residents while securing a place for Erich to run his operation. 

Models such as this can also help overcome the common problem of land acquisition which serves as a major barrier of entry for beginning farmers.  The problem of affordable farmland acquisition is especially apparent in urban and suburban settings where land values are often prohibitively expensive to farm despite the high demand for hyperlocal fresh produce.  Steadfast Farm sells fresh organic vegetables to the local community via an on-farm store, a vegetable box subscription program, farmers markets, and to local restaurants. Small, well managed farms like Steadfast Farm have the potential to be far more profitable per acre than larger-scale farms and have a serious impact on their local food systems.  Many small farms have also been nimble enough to sustain themselves, or even increase business during the pandemic as the demand for healthy local food surged and the threat to the national food supply became apparent. 

How productive can a small-scale regenerative farm be? This is the most common question I have received since I started Ojai Roots, a quarter-acre vegetable farm in Ojai, CA, where I focus on experimenting with organic production techniques that maximize the productivity and revenue potential of very small farms without compromising on environmental care.  While I devote my work on the farm to answering the question of how productive a small farm can be, I have come to understand that the real power may lie in increasing the number of small farms, and their potential to succeed as profitable businesses.  Research, innovation and information sharing will be key in the development and proliferation of these farms and local food production business models. 

The success of these types of diverse local food systems depends on entrepreneurial creativity and supportive laws and policies that rethink issues like zoning, urban/ag divide, business associations, water use, food safety, and environmental protection.  The incoming administration has the opportunity, and hopefully the political will, to support these kinds of changes. Efficiency, while important, cannot be all that counts in making food policy decisions.  It is time to reimagine the possibilities for local food production and get creative in building a more resilient and just food system. 

*Evan Graham Arango is the owner, founder and farmer at Ojai Roots Farm in Ojai, CA. He graduated UCLA Law in 2020 specializing in environmental law and taking courses in food and agricultural law and policy. He supports the small-scale regenerative farming movement currently underway and advocates for policies that help build a more resilient and sustainable food system.

Evan is currently a Research Affiliate with the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law. Research Affiliates are recent law school graduates working to better the food system who consult and assist on various Resnick Center research projects.

To contact Evan or for more information about Ojai Roots Farm:
Email: ojairootsfarm@gmail.com
Website: https://ojairootsfarm.com
Instagram: @Ojairoots

Roberts Guest Lectures

by Michael T. Roberts

I had the opportunity to guest lecture on historical perspectives involving food law and Covid-19 via Zoom in two classes last week. The first lecture/discussion was at the University of Arkansas School of Law’s LL.M. program series sponsored by Professor Susan Schneider on Food, Law, and Covid-19. My presentation title was on “Learning from the Past: Pandemics and Food Security in Historical Context.”

The second lecture/discussion was here at UCLA in Professor Monica Smith’s anthropology class on Covid-19 Foodways: Changes and Challenges for the Future. I presented on legal perspectives on Covid-19 changes in the context of the development of international food law in the 20th century. 

These opportunities have underscored for me how understanding the history of food security and the development of modern food law is critical as we move to the future.

Study Food History and Culture in Italy With UCLA Next Summer

Aaahhh, travel. Let’s dream of July in Rome, experiencing Italy’s food culture and learning Italian food history through the concept of terroir. Study this complex food culture with Robin Derby, Professor of History, UCLA, and Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy, observing sustainable food production, tasting local cuisine, and learning about the emergence of international food governance through the twentieth century. Click here for more information.

Guide to Food-Based Pro Bono Activities

by Diana Winters

The Resnick Center is excited to share the publication of “Setting the Table for Food-Based Pro Bono Opportunities: A Resource Guide for Pro Bono Attorneys,” authored by Tommy Tobin, a member of the Resnick Center’s Advisory Board, and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. The guide is designed to facilitate connections between attorneys seeking meaningful pro bono work and anti-hunger organizations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in the United States, and the amount of resources needed to address the crisis is staggering. Attorneys seeking pro bono work can assist with direct client services, legislative research, and policy advocacy, among other things. This guide seeks to describe these opportunities and to assist in forming these partnerships.

We are grateful to Tommy Tobin, Mazon, and Perkins Coie LLP for their work on and support of the guide. The guide will be updated periodically.

Addressing Honey Fraud and the Pollination Crisis

by Diana Winters

The scope of honey fraud is enormous.  Demand for honey has doubled in the U.S. in the past 25 years, but production has not kept up. The increase in demand for honey has coincided with a critical decline in honey bee populations globally.    So to keep consumers’ honey pots full with cheap honey, producers have increasingly cut honey with cheaper substances like corn syrup.

As adulterated honey takes over the mass market, beekeepers and legitimate honey producers cannot recoup their expenses by selling pure honey and are going out of business.  The loss of these businesses has dire consequences for our declining honeybee population, which in turn has repercussions far beyond honey production. 

Those trying to solve these two problems—honey market fraud and the loss of bee populations—must recognize that they are inextricably linked.  The failure to do so may be catastrophic. This is because the decline in honey production is the least of our worries when it comes to declining honeybee populations; the consequences of reduced pollination are far worse.  Three out of four fruit or seed crops need pollinators to continue producing, and the loss of bees has led to what some see as a pollination crisis.

Commercial beekeepers’ revenue comes from the sale of both honey and pollination services.  When beekeepers go out of business because they cannot compete on price with honey producers mixing cheaper products into honey, they also cease providing pollination services. 

But this linkage has not been effectively addressed by policymakers. One reason is that the declining honeybee population is seen as an environmental problem, while fraud is an economic one, and these problems are addressed by different federal agencies.  Notably, a 2014 effort by the White House to address the pollination crisis did not include the FDA, the only agency with the authority to address honey adulteration.  Moreover, the FDA’s approach to honey fraud has been anemic.  It focuses on labeling rather than stronger action like setting out a specific formula or method of production for honey.  

Michael T. Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at UCLA Law School, has published a white paper with the support of the American Honeybee Producers Association that identified an approach to stopping honey fraud while also saving the honeybee.

First, federal agencies—including the FDA, the USDA, and the EPA— must work together to adopt food-systems thinking with the twin goals of addressing pollination and honey production.  If the White House fails to order coordination among these entities, Congress should legislate this coordination.  And regardless of whether the White House or Congress act, the FDA should take immediate action against honey fraud.  Next, retailers should work with the American Honey Producers Association to develop strategies to address honey fraud and to save pollinators.  For example, in the absence of governmental standards, retailers should consider creating private standards in the supply chain to counter fraud. 

Moreover, all the stakeholders in this pollinator economy—including regulators, retailers, and beekeepers—must educate the consumer on the value of unadulterated honey. 

Currently, there are overwhelming incentives and an absence of consequences for food manufacturers to engage in honey fraud, and this takes a vast toll on consumers, the legitimate honey producer, and pollinators.  To fix this, we must make the connection between healthy pollinator populations and pure, authentic honey as clear to everyone as it is to beekeepers and legitimate honey producers.

Resnick Center faculty and staff recent speaking events

Executive Director Michael T. Roberts recently spoke by Zoom for the San Marino Rotary Club on the “Role of Food Law in everyday consumer products: Olive Oil and Honey. How do we know what’s in our plates?” Regarding the presentation, he commented, “I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of questions from the members. We ran 30 minutes overtime, as questions about Ractopamine (animal drug) and Isotopes (chemical fingerprinting) surfaced.” A video of the talk is here.

Also this week, Assistant Director Diana Winters participated in a Duke Law Food Law Society Zoom panel on Slaughterhouses and Covid-19, with David Muraskin from Public Justice, Hannah Connor from the Center for Biological Diversity, and Delcianna Winders, the Director of Lewis & Clark Law School’s Animal Law Litigation Clinic. The panel discussed failures in food safety and worker protection regulation that have led to the rampant spread of Covid-19 in meat processing plants.

Webinar: Impacts of COVID-19 on Food Security and Long-term Implications and Adaptations

by Diana Winters

On September 18, I attended a webinar hosted by the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University on the impacts of Covid-19 on food security. The panelists included Kip Curtis, an Associate Professor in the Department of History at OSU, Mary Rodriguez, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership at OSU, Brian Snyder, the Executive Director of the Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation (InFACT) at OSU, and Lauren Vargo – a Program Manager at Case Western Reserve University.

The panelists discussed the enormous impact of Covid-19 on family decision-making concerning food, and the increase in the use of federal and state food assistance benefits. Rodriguez described how families had to shift their buying habits because of the pandemic. Although official advice was to acquire two weeks of food, many families had neither the financial capacity nor the infrastructure to do so, and had to shift their diets accordingly. Curtis, an environmental historian, discussed the growing importance of local food production, in the context of many crises–not just the pandemic.

Snyder analogized the food system to a river, which had reduced water flow because of the pandemic. This drop in water level exposed hazards in the system that were always there, but hidden. For example, the public became aware of shortages and surpluses in the supply chain, as well as bottlenecks and dams in production, processing, and distribution. Worker issues became visible, especially in the area of meat processing, as production slowed because of rampant disease spread amongst closely packed individuals. Moreover, the fact that approximately 50% of farmworkers are undocumented disincentivized testing and treatment, which leads to more disease spread.

Vargo pointed out how much more food is in the media now, and this webinar highlighted how food and food systems became critically important during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is by no means over. There is no more important time to address the hazards in our food supply, to prepare us not just for future crises, but for the present.

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