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California’s farm-to-fork movement got a boost from Gov. Jerry Brown this week when he signed a handful of food and agriculture policy bills into law.
One will have a direct impact on San Diego-area farmers markets.
Designed to reduce fraud in California farmers markets, the new law will increase vendor fees at certified farmers markets from 60 cents to $2, and is expected to bring in $1 million in new revenue to hire more inspectors.
As we reported in May, the most common violation among vendors at local farmers markets is selling a product that isn’t listed on the certified producers certificate. San Diego County’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures is already one of the more proactive in the state when it comes to inspections, but the new law will likely strengthen departments throughout California.
Catt White, who operates the Little Italy Mercato as well as weekly farmers markets in Pacific Beach and North Park, says the fee increase isn’t limited to farmers. Non-farmer vendors selling items like coffee, jam or baked goods will also be required to pay the $2 fee. Here’s the rub, White says: The ag department doesn’t regulate vendors who have no agricultural products.
Technically these non-farmer vendors are selling goods at their own special event – one that just happens to run parallel (and in many cases, directly across the street) from the actual certified farmers market. So far, it’s been a fee that White pays herself, but with 200 vendors at the Little Italy market and 50-60 at her other two markets, it’s a substantial increase.
The new law will also prohibit resale vendors (meaning someone who might have brought produce from Mexico to sell, or didn’t grow it themselves) from selling at markets.
“We’ve never done it. We felt it violated the spirit of the law, but there are a fair amount of markets where you’d see resellers in the non-certified section of the market,” White said. “That’s now illegal.”
And to make the point even more clear for customers, the new law will also require farmers to post signs that say, “We sell what we grow.”
Farmers markets aren’t the only focal point of change in the wake of Brown’s executive moves. Here are a few other food shifts to keep an eye on.
WIC and CalFresh
Another measure signed by Brown will create a state Office of Farm to Fork tasked with increasing the availability of fresh produce to underserved communities and schools.
Jennifer Tracy, executive director at San Diego Hunger Coalition, said her group appreciates the emphasis on underserved communities and schools, and applauds efforts to increase access for WIC and CalFresh recipients at farmers markets, but believes the new law falls short in other areas.
“The bill doesn’t address the underlying economic dynamics that discourage local food production – like the high cost of water in San Diego – and make many people’s access to healthy food so tenuous,” Tracy said.
Another bill signed by the governor speeds up the review of neonicotinoids, a widely used insecticide suspected of being toxic to bees.
The new law requires the Department of Pesticide Regulation to re-evaluate the use of neonicotinoids and to issue a determination by July 1, 2018. In California, neonicotinoids are commonly used to treat citrus and orchard pests.
Paul Towers, a spokesman for Pesticide Action Network, said the new law is a signal to the state agency that it needs to do more to address the threats facing bees – critical pollinators of billions of dollars’ worth of crops throughout California – and do it fast.
Local beekeeper Alan Mikolich told me, though, that his colonies don’t come into much contact with neonicotinoids and that other factors are just as much of a threat to bees.
“In Southern California, there’s not a lot of it used where we go,” Mikolich said. “We’re often in the back-country and brush where there’s no crops at all.”
With the governor’s signature, commercial production of genetically modified salmon is now banned in California waters. GMO salmon isn’t currently available on the market, but one company, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, has been trying for several years to get FDA approval on its modified product, called AquAdvantage Salmon. Grocery chains including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Safeway have already announced they will not carry GMO salmon even if it reaches the market.
What Didn’t Make the Cut
Just as notable is what Brown didn’t sign. He vetoed a bill Tuesday that would’ve outlawed the use of antibiotics for growth in livestock production, saying the bill was “unnecessary since most major animal producers have already pledged to go beyond the FDA standard.” Low doses of antibiotics used to spur growth in farm animals is a practice that the CDC says is linked to growing antibiotic resistance.