On Wednesday, June 19th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Farm Bill reauthorization, offered by Reps. Joe Crowley (NY-14) and Michael Grimm (NY-11), to increase availability of kosher food in emergency food supplies. The Crowley-Grimm amendment requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to target, label, and track distribution of kosher and halal food, in order to help food banks and pantries meet the needs of populations with religious dietary restrictions.
"In these tough economic times, food banks and pantries are playing a critical role in serving our most vulnerable communities by helping to ensure they have access to nutritious meals and food. However, many pantries face an uphill battle in trying to meet the needs of observant families because they have difficulty identifying and obtaining kosher food," said Rep. Crowley. "Our amendment will make it easier for food banks to provide kosher and halal foods and, in turn, ensure no family has to choose between abiding by their religious beliefs or having enough food to eat."
"Superstorm Sandy was a harsh reminder as to why it is essential that our food banks carry Halal and kosher food," said Rep. Grimm. "After the storm, my staff worked with constituents and other groups to help coordinate preparation of Halal meals by families in Bay Ridge and with a Rabbi who was able to get a supply of kosher food for Orthodox Jewish families in need. By ensuring food banks can obtain this food in advance, we can remain prepared for any situation and ensure that all members of the community are provided for, no matter what their dietary needs."
"Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is particularly grateful to Reps. Joe Crowley and Michael Grimm for their leadership on the Kosher/Halal Amendment to the Farm Bill. In New York City, where nearly one million Jewish people live, more than 300,000 live at or below the poverty level and another 175,000 live in near poverty. Each month Met Council's kosher food pantry network across the City provides food packages for 15,000 households. Our food rescue and Masbia soup kitchens feed hundreds more each week. Yet we are limited because of a system that does not consider kosher food a priority in cities like New York. We are hopeful that thousands more food insecure Americans who observe the Muslim or Jewish faith will greatly benefit from this amendment," said William E. Rapfogel, CEO/Executive Director of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
"The Jewish community is committed to ensuring basic human rights for everyone, including the right to eat. This amendment would see that in guaranteeing access to food for vulnerable Americans, we are doing so in a way that respects diversity. All Americans deserve quality and nutritious meals, regardless of their culture or religion," said Jared Feldman, Vice President and Washington Director, Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides food through states to local emergency food providers -- such as food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. Food banks then combine these resources with private donations of food and funds, forming a public-private partnership.
Currently, USDA does not make a specific effort to purchase kosher and halal foods, either by choosing types of food known to be kosher or halal or by choosing from manufacturers who are certified kosher or halal. Some food purchased by USDA may be kosher or halal, but this food is not tracked through the distribution process or labeled as kosher/halal on the list of available food for food bank operators to review.
The Crowley-Grimm amendment would address this concern by directing the Secretary of Agriculture to:
Increase efforts to purchase food from manufacturers with a kosher or halal certification if the kosher and halal food purchased is cost neutral as compared to other food. This will ensure that when kosher and halal food is available for the same price as non-kosher or non-halal foods, USDA considers choosing the kosher and halal options without compromising the purchasing power of the program.
Improve the labeling of TEFAP's food list so that kosher and halal food bank operators are able to identify which food options they want to obtain that will then be distributed to the populations they serve.
Earlier this year, Crowley and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) authored legislation requiring the USDA to target, label, and track distribution of kosher food to make certain that more meals are directed toward kosher food banks that need it the most.
The House is expected to vote on final passage of the Farm Bill later today.