Tuesday, January 13, 2009

California State Food & Agriculture Committee

I was encouraged to see this change coming from California state government:

Senate sets new table for Food and Agriculture
California consumers invited to pull up a chair

SACRAMENTO – Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) will usher in a new era in California agriculture policy Tuesday, announcing a newly revamped Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture that looks more broadly at critical issues of sustainability and safety, as well as animal welfare reforms called for under voter-approved Proposition 2 and the security of our state’s food supply.
A website will be launched in conjunction with the announcement to provide information on the change and encourage public input in policy discussions at http://www.californiasafefood.com.

The pending reorganization will move forward a committee that was traditionally too narrowly focused on production, with a new vision that recognizes the need to protect finite resources while feeding an ever-growing population, the role that agriculture plays in supporting healthy lives and healthy communities, and the importance of transparency and consumer education in advancing best practices among producers.

“More Californians are paying close attention to where their food comes from and how healthy it is,” Steinberg said. “Senator Florez has shown great leadership as an advocate for improved food safety and legislative oversight in this area. He will play a pivotal role in keeping our communities informed and healthy.”

“There is a large and growing movement within the agriculture industry to focus on food products that are produced locally and responsibly that didn’t get the attention it deserved under the old committee format,” Florez said. “As we work to reign in sprawl in California and develop sustainable communities, agriculture is a critical component that needs to be addressed. Every community needs access to good nutrition.”

The Senate F&A Committee, historically comprised of rural members, will reach out to include urban legislators whose residents are often in even greater need of improved access to the fresh fruits and vegetables that are critical to a balanced diet. These urban districts also represent a large number of children who qualify for the school nutrition programs which fall under F&A’s jurisdiction.

As chairman of F&A, Florez already has plans to conduct a number of oversight hearings this year, including an inquiry into how the use of synthetic fertilizers was allowed in produce certified as organic, a look at the public health impacts of the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animals used for food, models of sustainable farming practices for operations large and small, how to improve farm animal welfare in California in light of the passage of Proposition 2, and a review of the investigations into E. coli contamination in the state’s leafy greens. Florez was a strong proponent of increased inspections and testing of leafy greens as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Food Safety.

“Eating is an act of faith, and I believe it is the role of government to ensure that this act of faith is well placed,” said Florez.

WHO: Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento; Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter; Senator Loni Hancock, D-Oakland; Humane Society of the United States; Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment; Food Empowerment Project; Center for Food Safety; Community Alliance with Family Farms; Food and Water Watch; Whole Foods Market
WHAT: Announcement of Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture
WHEN: Tuesday, January 13, 2009; 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: State Capitol, Room 3191; Sacramento, CA

This is all to the good, but I was disappointed when I went to the Web site and found a poll to determine which of the four subjects, Food Safety; Sustainable Farming; Food Security; and Animal Welfare, gets the most votes. This kind of dichotomy sets up a choice that doesn't reflect reality. Personally, I can't choose one. Of course I care about Animal Welfare and I'd like to see chickens treated much better than they are. That doesn't mean I don't care about Food Safety or one of the others. What use will they make of whatever figures they collect?

The best news is that the subject of agriculture is getting a lot more attention from a wider spectrum of the public. Getting better exposure to these issues will improve public decision making.

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