Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said today she will introduce a bill later this week that includes provisions that would significantly change the nation's food policy. The Local Farm, Food, and Jobs Act would expand opportunities for local and regional farmers and make it easier for consumers to have access to healthy foods.
"This is about healthy local food and a healthy local economy. When consumers can buy affordable food grown locally, everyone wins," Pingree said. "It creates jobs on local farms and bolsters economic growth in rural communities."
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Pingree's bill is a package of reforms and new programs that will encourage production of local food--not only by helping local farmers and ranchers become more profitable and productive, but also by helping consumers buy locally through improved distribution systems.
Pingree says farmers markets and other local food outlets are growing rapidly and creating jobs all over the country.
"We've seen explosive growth in sales of local food here in Maine and all across the country. This bill breaks down barriers the federal government has put up for local food producers and really just makes it easier for people to do what they've already been doing," Pingree said.
Recent reports found the number of farmers markets in the U. S. has grown 150% over the last decade, and supporting new farmers markets is expected to create thousands of new jobs.
Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and co-producer of the documentary Food, Inc said Pingree's proposal would give local food a boost.
"For too long, American farm policy has favored large, industrial producers over small farmers who want to raise livestock and grow food sustainably. This is a terrific bill for family farmers, the environment, and most of all, for consumers. It will bring fresh, healthy, local food to communities across the United States," Schlosser said.
Russell Libby, President of the Maine Organic and Farmers Association, said Pingree drew on her experience as an organic farmer in writing the bill.
"Chellie first started farming forty years ago and knows first-hand the challenges small farmers and farm-related business owners face. She knows what it takes to sell directly to consumers and the difficulty of getting products to market," Libby said.
Pingree's legislation is a package of reforms to the Farm Bill, which is normally passed by Congress every five years. This year, however, Congressional leaders have indicated they want to write a new Farm Bill over the next few weeks and insert it into the deficit reduction package being considered by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the "super committee.") Pingree said she's hopeful that provisions in her bill are included in any legislation that comes out of the Joint Committee's work.
"The policies in my bill make some major reforms to farm and food policy and we will work to get them included in any Farm Bill that is put together over the next few weeks and included in a deficit reduction package," she said.
Over the last few months, Pingree created a local and regional food working group to come up with the proposals in the legislation. Some of the participants included the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Environmental Working Group, the Organic Trade Association, Wholesome Wave, the Union Of Concerned Scientists, the New England Farmers Union and others.
The bill modifies nine of the sixteen titles of the farm bill. Some of those changes include proposals that:
* Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure--like slaughterhouses--to process and sell their food locally.
* Require USDA to keep doing traditional seed research, not just on genetically modified seeds.
* Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of organic farmers and diversified farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can't easily access traditional crop insurance.
* Break down barriers for schools and institutions to procure local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods, as well as fix out-dated federal policies that inhibit schools from purchasing local food.
* Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits--that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.