NYC Local Food Procurement Oversight: Testimony, Overview and Recommendations

by Deirdre Appel
Testimony to the New York City Council: New York City Council Committee on Contracts
Testimony of Charles Platkin, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H., Executive Director, Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College, CUNY
Title of Hearing: Oversight – Local Food Procurement

January 14, 2020. Good afternoon and thank you to Chairperson Kallos, and the members of the Committee on Contracts for the opportunity to submit written and oral testimony regarding local food procurement in New York City.

My name is Charles Platkin, and I am providing this testimony on behalf of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, of which I am the executive director. The Center works with policymakers, community organizations, advocates and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments. We thank the City Council for their support.

New York State has a thriving farm community and is a leading producer of numerous products, ranking first nationally in cottage cheese, second in apples and cabbage, and third in milk, grapes, wine, maple syrup, and cauliflower, according to the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets.[1] As stated in the 2018 Agricultural Census, New York State has a total of 33,400 farms equalling 6,00,000 acres of production.[2] In 2017, New York State’s agricultural industry brought in $5.75 billion in revenue and created nearly 200,000 jobs state-wide.[3] Local agriculture is key to New York’s economy and the health of New Yorkers.

The Center applauds the members of the City Council for their continued efforts to improve local food procurement. Local Law 50 and Local Law 52 strive to support New York State farmers while increasing and facilitating access to locally-produced food for New York City residents. Additionally, these laws create awareness of the importance of local food procurement. It should be noted that often times advancing food policy and healthy eating behaviors begins with creating awareness. Given that New York City Agencies purchase millions of dollars of food each year and serve more than 260 million meals, the benefits of purchasing and consuming locally-produced food are far-reaching.[4]

Supporting local farmers contributes to local and regional economies, reduces transportation costs and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, cuts down on the paper and plastic packaging used to keep fresh food from spoiling as it travels long distances, keeps farming land in agricultural use, preserves natural habitats by maintaining forest and wetlands, promotes a safer food supply by reducing the chances of contamination and provides less processed and more nutritious food.[5] [6] [7] [8] The Center recognizes the efforts currently underway and is eager to support the City Council in seeking additional ways to expand and improve procurement of locally-produced foods, specifically with regard to Local Law 50 and Local Law 52.

The Benefits of Local Food

In the United States, fresh produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to plate–about the equivalent of driving from New York City to Dallas, Texas.[9] Purchasing locally grown food means that the food travels shorter distances, thereby decreasing fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Typical food distribution in the United States results in 5 to 17 times more CO2 emissions than locally purchased food.[10]

A local food system reduces the risk of food safety issues, as longer distances provide more opportunities for contamination.[11]Local farms commonly use more environmentally-friendly practices to preserve their soil by planting cover crops, creating border areas for wildlife, spraying fewer pesticides, and promoting insect diversity.[12] [13] [14] Additionally, local farms are more likely to preserve the genetic diversity of plant varieties by planting a wide range of crops.[15] [16]

Local food procurement directly benefits the local economy by keeping about 65 percent of each dollar spent on food in the community.[17] In a 2016 report, the New York Academy of Medicine found that spending 25 percent of publicly-funded institutions’ food dollars on foods grown within the state would create almost $208 million of new economic output.[18] Farmers who sell directly to the consumer retain a larger amount of the profit, allowing them to stay on their land, which in turn preserves farmland.[19] According to the American Farmland Trust Guide to Local Planning for Agriculture in New York, studies have shown that locally-produced food keeps taxes down because farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services.[20]

Locally-produced food also benefits the consumer’s health because produce that is picked when ripe and travels shorter distances could result in more nutritious food, according to research.[21] Evidence from the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society in the UK suggests that the nutritional quality of produce is highest right after harvest, and declines as time passes (often during the time of transport).[22]

Consuming locally-produced food is also associated with an increased likelihood of making healthier food choices, and a lower risk of diet-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes.[23] According to the USDA’s Local Food Systems Report, this is primarily because food available locally is fresher and less processed.[24]

According to PolicyLink, the benefits of local purchasing–from system-wide environmental impacts to the health of the consumer–impact many individuals who rely on public institutions for some or all of their meals. These institutions include but are not limited to public schools, public hospitals, child-care centers, senior centers and programs, state prisons, civil and municipal service facilities, state colleges and universities, and nonprofit contracts that provide food for federal programs.[25]

Local Law 50

As the City Council is aware, in 2011, then City Council Member Gale Brewer introduced Local Law 50 as a way to promote New York State’s local agriculture by encouraging 11 City Agencies to purchase locally-produced food. The law requires New York City’s Chief Procurement Officer to establish purchasing guidelines and a price incentive to encourage these City Agencies to make best efforts to procure locally-produced food.[26] It allowed for a “price preference” for New York State food, which encouraged buying food from local suppliers if their prices were within 10 percent of the lowest non-local bid.[27] Agency implementation is monitored and requires the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) to publish an annual report with data about how much local food was procured by City Agencies in the previous year.

Many organizations and institutions (hereafter referred to as Food Service Contractors) are contracted by City Agencies to prepare and serve food, and the law required the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to request that those Food Service Contractors report various pieces of information to the City Agency they are contracted with. Those City Agencies then collect and report the information they receive.

However, in the past few years, the annual reports from MOCS contained data about only a fraction of the food procured by New York City, with only a small number of Food Service Contractors providing the requested information. In 2017, out of 59 Food Service Contractors with a total contract value of $615 million, only 11, with a value of $66.5 million, responded.[28] In 2018, only 3 out of 66 Food Service Contractors, accounting for only $15 million out of a total $3.1 billion, provided information.[29]

Local Law 50 has good intentions for local food procurement, however, the law needs to provide an incentive for City Agencies and Food Service Contractors to disclose information as it currently has no consequences for those who do not. Reporting is also complicated by the fact that most Food Suppliers do not provide sourcing information to Food Service Contractors, leaving these Food Service Contractors unable to share information to MOCS.

Local Law 52

Local Law 52, passed in July 2011, established reporting requirements for the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food in and for the City. The law requires the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to create a report annually on such reporting requirements to the mayor and city council. The report includes the number, size, location, production type and annual dollar amount of city financial support received by farms participating in the watershed agricultural program. The report includes additional data such as the total dollar amount of expenditures by the Department of Education on milk and other food products that are subject to the USDA country of origin labeling requirements; the location and size of community gardens on city-owned property; the number of food manufacturers receiving monetary benefits from the Economic Development Corporation or the Industrial Development Agency; and the daily number of food delivery truck and rail trips to or through Hunts Point Market.[30]

The current 2019 Food Metrics Report provides an overview of production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food within the City’s, and notes that within the coming year, the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy aims to expand data and thereby increase its ability to assess and gain insight from the Food Metrics Reports moving forward.[31] The ability to obtain data about food metrics on a yearly basis is what makes it possible to track the improvements in local food initiatives across the City’s food system.

According to the Office of Food Policy, the report continues to expand each year to include more of the programs and initiatives within the City that address food insecurity, improve food procurement and food service, increase access to healthy food, and support a sustainable food system.[32] However, the annual report is lacking valuable local food procurement data. Requiring the food metrics report to include local food procurement information from all City Agencies and not just the Department of Education would yield baseline data that could allow for further encouragement of local food procurement moving forward.

A City Council Agenda from August 2019 included a summary for fiscal year 2020 that recommended updating Local Law 52 to include additional data. The additional information would provide further context to the existing data, such as the total number of children enrolled in public schools in addition to the number of children participating in school lunch. Additionally requiring all City Agencies to report local food procurement data could guide future policy. Implementing these recommendations are necessary in order to improve the Local Law 52’s efficacy in tracking food metrics among the work of City Agencies.

For reasons previously mentioned and to build upon the progress of Local Laws 50 and 52, the Center recommends the following:

Recommendations
  1. Expand Local Law 52 to require that all City Agencies provide information on local food procurement for inclusion in the annual Food Metrics Report. The City’s 11 Agencies serve roughly 260 million meals annually. All of these 11 Agencies–not just the Department of Education should be required to publicly report all local food procurement dealings. All City Agencies should be required to provide the total dollar amount spent locally on milk and other food products that are subject to the USDA country of origin labeling requirements.
  2. Mandate Food Suppliers to provide sourcing information. Food Service Contractors often have difficulty sharing information about local food procurement because few Food Suppliers consistently provide sourcing information. Food Suppliers who provide food to City Agencies and their Food Service Contractors should be required to be transparent about the origin of the food, which would allow Food Service Contractors and City Agencies to track local food procurement more accurately.
  3. Create a “Supply Local” awareness campaign for Food Suppliers. Encourage and educate Food Suppliers who work with Food Service Contractors and City Agencies about food transparency and the importance of local food procurement. Food Suppliers will learn which City Agencies and Food Service Contractors require information on the origin of their food in order to improve data about local food procurement.
  4. Incentivize Food Service Contractors to provide local food procurement data. While Local Law 50 requires MOCS to publish an annual report with data about how much food was procured locally by City Agencies the previous year, the law does not require Food Service Contractors to report local food procurement to City Agencies, which leaves the MOCS report lacking a significant amount of information. Incentives and penalties need to be instituted to motivate Food Service Contractors to disclose local food procurement information as the current voluntary system does not encourage participation.
  5. Implement a monetary penalty in the form of a budget reduction for City Agencies and Food Service Providers that fail to report local food procurement. Monetary penalties should begin after 1.5 years of non-reporting compliance and increase in severity in each year that follows.
  6. Increase the price preference/percentage for New York State food under Local Law 50. Local Law 50 currently allows for a 10 percent differential on bids from local food producers, meaning that contractors can accept a bid that is local if it falls within 10 percent of non-local bids. Increasing the price preference above 10 percent could increase local food procurement significantly. More research is needed to see if a number of local food procurement bids have historically been rejected because they exceeded the 10 percent price differential. Additionally, a question should be added to the reporting forms that asks if any local food bids that were rejected and why.
  7. Streamline the reporting process to make it simple and straightforward for Food Service Contractors and City Agencies to report local food procurement. A user-friendly form similar to SurveyMonkey or Formstack with dropdown menus that automatically populates and aggregates data into an Excel form (or other software). The data collected via these forms should be open and available to the City and the public. The Center is available to help the City Council develop this form at no cost. Additionally the reporting period for local food procurement, which is currently annually, should be researched to determine if more frequent reporting can simplify the process for Food Service Vendors and City Agencies.

We at the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center recognize the importance of expanding local procurement and improving data collection on its metrics, and we stand ready to help in any way we can.

For more information about the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, visit our website at www.nycfoodpolicy.org or email Dr. Charles Platkin at [email protected]

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide oral and written testimony.

References

[1] National Association of State Departments of Agriculture & Markets. NASDA. https://www.nasda.org/organizations/new-york-state-department-of-agriculture-markets.

[2] New York Agriculture. New York Farm Bureau. https://www.nyfb.org/about/about-ny-ag.

[3] New York Agriculture. New York Farm Bureau. https://www.nyfb.org/about/about-ny-ag.

[4] New York City Food Policy Center. 2013. “The Public Plate in New York City: A Guide to Institutional Meals.” https://nycfoodpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/PUBLICPLATEREPORT.pdf.

[5] New York City Council. 2011. “Purchase of New York State Food.” Committee Report 2/28/11. https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=828460&GUID=8B484573-3BE2-4A2D-8C13-425453936D04&Options=ID%7CText%7C&Search=452.

[6] Klavinski R. 7 Benefits of Eating Local Foods. Michigan State University Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/7_benefits_of_eating_local_foods. Published April 13, 2013.

[7] Martinez S, Hand M, Da Pra M, et al. Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, ERR 97, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/46393/7054_err97_1_.pdf?v=0 Published May 2010.

[8] Shideler D, Bauman A, Thilmany D, Jablonski B.R. Putting Local Food Dollars to Work: The Economic Benefits of Local Food Dollars to Workers, Farms and Communities. Choices, A Publication of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. 2018;33(3). Shideler, Dave, et al. “Putting Local Food Dollars to Work: The Economic Benefits of Local Food Dollars to Workers, Farms and Communities.” Choices, vol. 33, no. 3, 2018, pp. 1–8. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26583606. Accessed 8 Jan. 2020.

[9]Weber CL, Matthews HS. Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology. 2008;42(10):3508-3513. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1021/es702969f.

[10] Cho, R.How Green is Local Food? The Columbia University Earth Institute. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/09/04/how-green-is-local-food/. Published Sept 4, 2012.

[11] Why Buy Local? GrowNYC.  https://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/ourmarkets/whylocal.

[12] Cho, R.How Green is Local Food? The Columbia University Earth Institute. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/09/04/how-green-is-local-food/. Published Sept 4, 2012.

[13]D’Souza, G and Ikerd, J. Small Farms and Sustainable Development; Is Small More Sustainable? Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 1196;28(1):73-83.,  https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/15243/1/28010073.pdf.

[14] Dunning, R. Research-Based Support and Extension Outreach for Local Food Systems. Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina. https://cefs.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/research-based-support-for-local-food-systems.pdf?x47549. Published November 2010.

[15] Why Buy Local? GrowNYC.  https://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/ourmarkets/whylocal.

[16]D’Souza, G and Ikerd, J. Small Farms and Sustainable Development; Is Small More Sustainable? Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 1196;28(1):73-83.,  https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/15243/1/28010073.pdf.

[17] Brain, R. The Local Food Movement: Definitions, Benefits & Resources. Utah State University Sustainability Extension. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2693&context=extension_curall. Published September 2012.

[18] Libman, K, Li A, and Grace C. The Public Plate in New York State: Growing Health, Farms and Jobs with Local Food. The New York Academy of Medicine. https://finys.org/sites/default/files/uploads/pol_publicplatefinal11_1_17.pdf. Published 2016.

[19]D’Souza, G and Ikerd, J. Small Farms and Sustainable Development; Is Small More Sustainable? Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 1196;28(1):73-83.,  https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/15243/1/28010073.pdf.

[20]Haight D, Cosgrove J, and Ferguson K. Guide to Local Planning for Agriculture in New York. American Farmland Trust. http://www.townofaurora.com/files/7213/6199/1911/Guide_to_Local_Planning_for_Agriculture_NY.pdf.

[21] Why Buy Local? GrowNYC.  https://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/ourmarkets/whylocal.

[22]Does Eating Local Food Reduce the Environmental Impact of Food Production and Enhance Consumer Health? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2010;69:582-591. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/C264A576782D7B79B95A47D50515B02A/S0029665110002004a.pdf/does_eating_local_food_reduce_the_environmental_impact_of_food_production_and_enhance_consumer_health.pdf. Published August 10, 2010.

[23] Brain, R. The Local Food Movement: Definitions, Benefits & Resources. Utah State University Sustainability Extension. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2693&context=extension_curall. Published September 2012.

[24] Martinez S, Hand M, Da Pra M, et al. Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, ERR 97, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/46393/7054_err97_1_.pdf?v=0 Published May 2010.

[25] Equitable Development Toolkit: Local Food Procurement.. PolicyLink.  https://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/edtk_local-food-procurement.pdf. Published March 2015.

[26] Purchase of New York State Food. New York City Council. https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=828460&GUID=8B484573-3BE2-4A2D-8C13-425453936D04&Options=ID%7CText%7C&Search=452. Published 2011.

[27] Purchase of New York State Food. New York City Council. https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=828460&GUID=8B484573-3BE2-4A2D-8C13-425453936D04&Options=ID%7CText%7C&Search=452. Published 2011.

[28] Food Policy Standards. 2017. Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/cardio/cardio-meals-snacks-standards.pdf.

[29] Report to the City Council pursuant to LL50 of 2011. Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/mocs/downloads/pdf/LL50_NYSFood_FY18.pdf. Published 2018.

[30]Growing Food Equity in New York City: A City Council Agenda. New York City Council, http://council.nyc.gov/data/wp-content/uploads/sites/73/2019/08/growing-food-equity-1.pdf. Published August 2019.

[31] Food Metrics Report 2019. NYC Food Policy, The City of New York. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/foodpolicy/about/food-metrics-report.page.

[32] Food Metrics Report 2019. NYC Food Policy, The City of New York. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/foodpolicy/about/food-metrics-report.page.

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