News from the
Assembly Task Force on
Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
|A “kid” from Brooklyn meets a “kid” from Candor, NY, at Rita Kellogg’s Side Hill Acres dairy goat farm.|
|Felix W. Ortiz, Chair • Sheldon Silver, Speaker • Summer 2005|
What a difference a year makes! Last summer I was writing to ask you to back our efforts to secure funding in the budget for the Childhood Obesity Prevention Program. In April we passed our first on-time budget in 20 years and thanks to your support we included $1.5 million annually for child obesity programs in 2005 and 2006. I have also re-introduced legislation, A.5665, to provide a more substantial and stable source of revenue to fund this effort. This bill, sometimes dubbed the “fat tax,” was endorsed in a New York Times editorial earlier this year. Another budget-related success was the extra $350,000 the Assembly Majority was able to add for the State’s Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program.
Continuing our multi-pronged approach to fighting obesity we pushed hard this Spring for my chain restaurant/food establishment nutrition labeling bill, A.5664. Although we got the bill to the floor of the Assembly, the opposition was intense and it did not pass this Session. We will continue our fight next year and with your support we can pass this bill and empower families to eat healthier.
We were successful with another Task Force bill, A.8005, to help farmers and farmworkers by providing Spanish language training and certification for agricultural pesticide applicators. More farmers are relying on foreign-born full-time farmworkers who are taking on important responsibilities that require technical training. The bill passed both houses and will be sent to the Governor for his consideration later this summer.
We sponsored an all-day public hearing in May to hear your thoughts on where our State’s food policy should be headed. We received testimony from 46 individuals and organizations from around the State presenting recommendations on food policy councils, community food security, food assistance, agriculture, nutrition, food-based economic development, healthcare, and government and non-profit programs. I plan to follow up by organizing smaller regional meetings to further discuss these proposals. I considered the hearing the first meeting of a “statewide advisory council” to give my Task Force direction in the coming years. If you could not attend the hearing, I still welcome your new ideas; please contact us.
As Task Force Chair, it is my job to represent a wide variety of interests and try to craft policy that improves the lives of all the people of New York State. Without your support and guidance we could not do our job. Thank you.
Why We Need Nutrition Information at
Everyone knows that obesity is a serious problem in this country and in New York. Over the last twenty years, nationwide obesity rates doubled in adults and the percentage of seriously overweight children tripled. The NYC Health Department found that nearly half of the City’s elementary-aged children are overweight. Over 32 percent of the 2-5 year olds who are participating in the NYS Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program are overweight or at risk of being overweight. Obesity can lead to serious illnesses such as diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one in three U.S. children born in 2000 could become diabetic in their lifetimes because of obesity.
In addition to the human suffering caused by obesity-related illnesses, there is a growing financial burden on everyone, including taxpayers. An Emory University study found that U.S. employers and privately insured families spent $36.5 billion on obesity-related conditions in 2002, up from $3.6 billion in 1987. It is estimated that $3.5 billion of New York’s Medicaid spending is related to obesity, by far the highest level of any state.
This crisis is a result of changes in individual behavior and society as a whole, including a more sedentary way of life and a shift in food consumption. For example, Americans are increasingly eating meals away from home, and food businesses, especially chains, spend hundreds of millions of dollars encouraging children and their families to visit frequently. In 1970, Americans spent 26 percent of their food dollars on foods prepared outside their homes but today spend almost half of their food dollars eating out. The average American consumes about one-third of calories at restaurants and other food-service establishments. Portion sizes have been increasing; it is not uncommon for a restaurant entree to provide half of a day’s recommended calories, saturated and trans fat, and sodium. Children eat almost twice as many calories when they eat out compared to eating at home. Unfortunately, calorie and other nutrition information is not readily available outside of grocery stores.
Since 1994, nutrition labeling on packaged foods at the supermarket has been mandated by law. However, when the public eats out, nutrition comparisons are virtually impossible, making informed choices difficult. For example, would anyone know that a sweetened coffee drink at one restaurant chain may have more fat and calories than a cheeseburger with fries at another? Most people recognize that certain foods tend to be more fattening than others, but studies have shown that even nutritionists with advanced degrees underestimate the calorie and fat levels of food when they eat out. We need more information.
The Task Force legislation, A.5664, introduced to address this problem, would require that large chains — defined as 10 or more businesses — list calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium levels. These chains have standardized menus and offerings which make it easier to provide such nutrition information. If they only have menu boards or signs they only need to list calories. The labeling requirement would apply only to items listed on the printed menu as they are usually prepared and offered for sale; one-day specials or special orders by customers would not be affected. Many chains already provide this information on their websites. The implementation of this bill is designed to be reasonable. Enforcement provisions are limited to ensuring that the nutrition information is on the menu or menu board. Health inspectors are not required to test food; documentation of accuracy may be requested from corporate headquarters. Stores would not get fined because a counter person put too much cream cheese on a bagel one day.
Although some opponents of the legislation claim that this is a “nanny” bill designed to limit consumer choice, the proposal does not mandate what the chains serve or how they cook. However, who would complain if the nutrition listings result in businesses offering more wholesome options? Providing nutrition information to customers would also help prevent misleading claims for products implied to be healthier than they are. Most important, surveys show that two-thirds of Americans support requiring restaurants to list nutrition content. We should give it to them.
This bill was developed as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing obesity. Task Force Chair Assemblyman Ortiz held several public hearings around the State, which led to the passage of the State Childhood Obesity Prevention Program, now funded at $3 million for community- and school-based programs. He also sponsors legislation to increase physical education and provide insurance coverage for nutrition counseling. Many experts, however, believe that, while formal programs are essential, families still have to navigate a confusing food “environment” filled with unhealthy choices that make it difficult for education to be effective. The chain restaurant/food establishment labeling bill would allow consumers to make informed choices at the point-of-purchase and might also result in a marketplace with more nutritious alternatives.
Some researchers believe that because of increased levels of obesity this generation of kids may be the first in modern history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Everyone needs to be part of the solution or we all, including chain food businesses, will pay the consequences through higher health insurance and Medicaid costs. Critics of government efforts to fight child obesity often claim that it is the parents’ responsibility to choose healthier foods. Let’s give them a chance by providing nutrition information where families eat and see if we can empower parents, and children, to do a better job.
Task Force Legislation
The following new Task Force bills were introduced this year and are in committee. For a complete list of Task Force legislation please click here, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 518-455-5203.
A.5763 Ortiz (MS) — Requires schools to implement a method to measure, report, and analyze the body mass index of its students.
A.8000 Ortiz (MS) — Finances the transportation and distribution of New York State farm grown products to food service markets especially in underserved communities.
A.8001 Ortiz (MS) — Finances the construction, reconstruction, improvement, expansion or rehab of wholesale regional farmers’ markets that promote farm products grown in New York State.
A.8002 Ortiz (MS) — Requires products labeled as dietary supplements to carry a label stating that the product has or has not been tested by the FDA.
A.8003 Ortiz (MS) — Finances the development of processed and packaged foods grown in New York for delivery to foodservice operation markets.
A.8004 Ortiz — Provides that a student who is caught using prohibited performance enhancing substances be banned from participation in athletics for a minimum of one year.
A.8006 Ortiz (MS) — Requires the commissioner of health to establish means of educating proprietors and employees of public eating establishments about food allergens.
Assemblymember Felix W. Ortiz
Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
Room 542 Legislative Office Building • Albany, New York 12248 • (518) 455-3821
New York State Assembly
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