The past few months have been a busy time for the Slow Food California Policy Committee, especially at the state level. It looks like we will have plenty to continue to do in the near future and we look forward to working with Slow Food USA as the U.S. Farm Bill continues to take shape. We will definitely be reaching out for member support as we advocate or a Good, Clean, and Fair food system for All. The following recaps our efforts and looks ahead to what we expect to be on our advocacy agenda:
AB626 – Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations. We have formally supported this bill that expands the allowable foods in cottage food operations. On June 21, 2018 it passed the Senate Health Committee and is now in the Senate Appropriation Committee. The link to the bill can be found here.
SB946 – Sidewalk Vendors. This bill decriminalizes sidewalk vendors and places certain requirements for local government regulations of sidewalk vendors. We support this bill that passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly having just passed on a 6-1 vote in the Assembly Local Government Committee. The link to the bill can be found here.
We commented on proposed wording for the National Bioengineered Disclosure Standard – using wording aligned with Slow Food USA’s comment many of the committee members individually and the Committee as a whole, on behalf of Slow Food California, commented on the newly proposed labeling of products containing GMOs advocating against the proposed BE (bioengineered) smiley, sun-faced labels and other elements of the proposed changes. The Committee comment can be read below. The proposed rule (which is no longer open for comment) can be found here.
SB872 Compromise on beverage bottle taxes – this one caught most everyone by surprise. In the shadows of the Capitol, a behind the scenes compromise what hammered between the highest levels of the Legislature and Governor’s Office with the American Bottle Association to stall the ability of local governments to enact local taxes on “carbonated and noncarbonated nonalcoholic beverages” and other “groceries” until the end of 2030. In exchange for the moratorium, the beverage industry would pull a proposed ballot initiative that would have required a 2/3 majority of local voters to approve a new local tax or tax increase. The Governor and many mayors across the state felt the compromise was necessary so that cash-strapped local governments could attempt to increase taxes in their jurisdictions. The bill can be found here. Read more here.
U.S. Farm Bill – the U.S. Senate passed its version of the U.S. Farm Bill in late June that did not include the food stamp changes approved by the House earlier in the month. The Senate bill passed with bi-partisan support whereas the House version passed on a purely partisan vote. We will keep an eye on this as it goes through the reconciliation process and work with Slow Food USA and our other national partners as this moves forward.
This what I submitted today on behalf of SFCA:
On behalf of the Slow Food California Chapter’s Policy Committee and in support of our dedication to a food system that is Good, Clean, and Fair for All. We have supported labeling GMO foods since 2012 and encourage USDA to enact policy that reflects what consumers want: honesty and transparency that puts no further burden on them to easily understand what’s in the products they purchase to feed their children and families. We believe in a consumers’ right to fully be able to recognize the composition of the food that they and their families consume. The proposed National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (Docket No. AMS-TM-17-0050) does not support in any way that right. Indeed, it appears to be providing cover to ingredients that are the anti-thesis of Good, Clean, and Fair. I strongly urge the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service to reconsider the proposed wording of the rule in the following ways:
1. Include products containing highly refined ingredients. The proposed exemption would create a massive loophole for the majority of products that contain genetically engineered ingredients, like sugars and oils, and therefore undermines the effectiveness of the standard.
2. Use commonly accepted wording instead of “bioengineered“, which is not well-established or recognized by consumers. Instead, the well-established “genetically engineered” (or “GE”), or “genetically modified organism” (or “GMO”) should be used to reduce unnecessary consumer confusion. The USDA should allow only the terms “Genetically Engineered” or “GMO” as those are the popular terms that have been recognized by consumers for decades. “Bioengineered” is not recognized or used by the public. Please do not confuse consumers. Further, put the globally accepted threshold for GE contamination at no more than .9%. This will keep our standards in line with our EU and other trade partners. In addition, if it’s any higher, consumers will lose trust in the label and the government’s ability to provide the transparency they want.
3. Change the logos. A winking, sunny, smiley face, bearing an abbreviation that equates to a positive action verb (BE) is hardly the objective conveyor of scientific fact and seemingly suggests that the USDA promotes genetically engineered products and prefers them over organic and other conventional, non-GE foods. The smile, sun, and scenic symbolism should be replaced by designs that simply indicate that the product is genetically engineered or that it contains genetically engineered ingredients. I suggest GE or GMO in a circle.
4. Do NOT delay implementation: the proposed compliance date of January 1, 2020 is more than enough time for companies to transition to the new labeling standards. Do not include the unreasonable and unnecessary delay to January 1, 2022 in the final rule.
5. Require clear, on-package labels that do not require consumers to look QR codes, website URLs, or any other alternatives to be used instead of clear, on-package labels. The USDA’s own 2017 study shows how ineffective and discriminatory these alternatives are.
6. Enact a strong enforcement policy to protect both consumers and farmers. Contamination issues are increasing and will continue to do so in the future. Only a strong enforcement provision will engender trust in the label and protection from contamination for both our farmers and the citizens who buy their foods.
Thank you for adopting these suggestions in order to strengthen the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. By including these suggestions, this standard will better support a consumers‘ right to make informed decisions about what they and their families consume.