Rethinking the way New York buys food

New York’s existing food procurement policies require municipalities and local institutions such as schools and hospitals to contract with the lowest responsible bidder. This model tends to direct companies to anyone who can mass-produce products in the fastest and cheapest way possible, regardless of the consequences.

But a new bill would change that. The Good Food Purchasing program, sponsored by Michelle Hinchey in the Senate and Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes in the Assembly, is designed to promote food sustainability and ethics by introducing a values-based sourcing model. This would allow municipalities to award contracts to suppliers who respect environmental sustainability, racial equity, fair labor practices, animal welfare, fair prices for farmers, local sourcing and value nutrition, as long as their bids are within 10% of the lowest bidder.

The proposed law would revolutionize the way municipalities purchase food, says Hinchey, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. “New York’s food supply laws are stuck in the 1970s because that was the last time they were updated. Our bill is needed because it finally brings New York’s food purchasing strategy into the 21st century.

The bill follows the framework of the Good Food Purchasing Policy adopted by Los Angeles in 2012. Since then, similar programs have been implemented in 60 institutions and 24 municipalities across the country, which together spend more than $1 billion dollars in food per year. (Nationally, food service establishments spend about $125 billion a year on purchases.) New York would be the first state to pass a values-based food supply law, and Hinchey hopes it will start a tendency.

“The way New York is going, so is the country,” she says. “We should recognize the power of big, innovative ideas like this to show that it’s possible not just citywide, but statewide. To be able to really roll this out from our state in as a first is really exciting.

Local and human

In recent years, values-based procurement has gained traction at the municipal level in New York State. New York City, which began work on establishing a food purchase program in 2015, spends half a billion dollars and provides 230 million meals a year. Schools in the city of Buffalo, which provide 10 million meals each year, began working on a program in 2017.

“That’s real buying power, and with it comes incredible responsibility and opportunity to greatly influence how food is produced,” says Bill Ketzer, senior director of legislation for the ‘State for the ASPCA Eastern Division. He says the bill not only aligns with the ASPCA’s mission, but also with societal values. “We know New Yorkers want a more humane food system. They want a system that is more compassionate towards animals, farms, consumers, workers and the environment.

In a survey conducted by the ASPCA, nine out of 10 Americans said they are concerned about the impacts of factory farming, and more than 70% are looking for more local or high-welfare animal products. “They are becoming more aware of where their food comes from, says Ketzer.

According to the Sentience Institute, 99% of farm animals in the United States live on factory farms. Farming in New York, however, tends to be on a smaller scale, with 98% of the state’s 33,438 farms being family businesses, many of which struggle to compete with factory farms outside of New York. the state.

The Good Food Purchasing bill would prioritize suppliers who source 51% of their raw materials from within the state. But that’s just one of seven ways a grower can qualify for additional consideration, and the New York Farm Bureau thinks it could actually put New York farmers at a disadvantage.

“To qualify for the preference, the bidder should be able to certify that 51% of the food product ingredients contain locally produced, grown and harvested agricultural raw materials,” the Farm Bureau said in a statement. “As the bill is currently drafted, a bidder from another state could qualify by simply meeting one of the other criteria. Farmers and food processors in New York are already losing business to farms. and out-of-state food processors who can offer products at lower prices.

Assemblyman Chris Tague agrees that the bill diminishes the importance of procurement of state assets by making it one of seven options. “Rather than supporting this bill, I am co-sponsoring another bill, which would establish procurement targets and preference for New York State food products purchased by state agencies, ensuring that their purchases support our state’s farmers when possible,” he says.

The Farm Bureau also wonders who would assess a farmer’s eligibility: “Will the local government have the expertise in this area of ​​knowledge to set science-based requirements?” The agency recommended that farmers demonstrate their eligibility through already existing programs, such as the New York Grown and Certified Program.

Other criteria

The Good Food Purchasing Bill offers a number of additional avenues that farmers can qualify for further consideration during the bidding process. One is an equity provision for minority and women-owned businesses. While women make up a growing share of farmers in New York, they still only made up 37% in 2017. BIPOC farmers made up just 1.3%.

Another criterion concerns fair labor practices, giving a boost to employers who respect and protect the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, an important lever in a $5.75 billion industry that employs more than 55,000 people. Josh Kellerman, director of public policy for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents more than 45,000 workers, says the provision will incentivize employers to support their workers.

And arguably the bill’s most complex provision concerns the environmental sustainability criteria, which are broken down into seven categories of means by which farmers can lessen their impact on the environment: eliminating or reducing the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers; avoiding the systematic use of hormones and antibiotics; preserve and restore soil quality; protect and enhance wildlife habitats and biodiversity; avoid deterioration of water or air quality; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and reduce energy consumption, water consumption and food waste.

“I was struck by the diversity of initiatives where farmers could potentially be rewarded with a higher price,” says Laura Ten Eyck, general manager of Indian Ladder Farms at Altamont, a local orchard that is supporting the project. of law, as well as more than 80 organizations at the state, national and local levels. “Bringing so many of these issues together in one piece of legislation highlights the complexity of the environment in which farmers work and how incredibly important it is that we succeed in all of these things.

The Farm Bureau, for its part, argues that New York farmers are already meeting higher standards for the environment, animal welfare and worker rights. But according to Kellerman, more can and should be done to reward employers who operate in a socially responsible manner.

“Values-based contracts put public funds where our values ​​are,” he says. “It puts it in the hands of employers who treat their workers as whole people, with families to support and meaningful lives to pursue. It puts public money in the hands of employers who protect the environment, who treat animals with respect, who are local, who honor racial diversity… And it disadvantages those whose only goal is greed.