Strong Food Proposals in 2019 NY Budget!

Governor Cuomo’s 2019 budget proposal includes two promising initiatives to address critical food-related issues—one on food waste and one on school food.

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Food Waste

As part of this year’s budget, the Governor has put forth a comprehensive proposal to address food waste by preventing, recovering, and recycling excess food across the state. More than 2.5 million New Yorkers struggle to have enough to eat. At the same time, 40% of the food produced in this country is wasted—and here in New York, food makes up 18% of our municipal solid waste stream. The vast majority of this food is disposed of in landfills where it breaks down and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. We are throwing away wholesome food that could instead help feed our fellow citizens in need.

The Governor’s proposal—the Food Recovery and Recycling Act and related funding—will begin to address food production, consumption, and disposal more sustainability by discouraging the production, distribution, and preparation of excess food; by recovering excess food for those in need; and by recycling food scraps that remain. In doing so, it has the potential to feed hungry New Yorkers and fight climate change at the same time.

The best way to reduce food waste is by preventing excess food in the first place. Education and measurement are two of the best tools to prevent food waste. Accordingly, the Act would require the Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) to develop educational materials on food waste minimization for municipalities. It would also encourage those municipalities to share this information with residents on their website and via constituent mailings. This is particularly important, as a relatively large share of food loss occurs in our homes. At the same time, the state will encourage food waste measurement by making available funding for food waste audit and technical assistance grants to help generators prevent waste. 

Even with strong prevention measures, some food is likely to go uneaten. Rather than being sent to a landfill, wholesome foods should be donated to people in need. Nationally, current food recovery efforts capture only about 10% of edible food available. The proposed bill would begin to increase food donation in New York by requiring the state’s largest food waste generators to donate excess edible food through the regional food bank system. DEC estimates that if just five percent of the excess food from the large generators was donated, it would increase rescued food by 20%. The state is also dedicating significant funding to the regional food bank system to help purchase equipment needed to transport and handle increased food donations.

Excess food that cannot be donated should be separated and used as animal feed, or recycled at composting or anaerobic digestion facilities. The State estimates that the largest food scrap generators in New York create 400,000 tons of wasted food each year. Recycling, rather than landfilling this waste, reuses the nutrients and energy in the scraps and could have the same greenhouse gas reduction benefits as removing more than 25,000 cars from the road. This bill would require that the state’s largest generators of food waste begin to recycle their food scraps, provided that adequate processing capacity exists within 40 miles.

Wasting food is bad for our environment, our economy, and our neighbors throughout the state. The Governor’s proposal has the potential to feed hungry New Yorkers, fight climate change, and generate jobs in communities around New York. Building on the incredible success of the Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit, NRDC looks forward to working with a robust coalition of hunger, environmental, and business groups to make this proposal a reality.

School Food

Just before the New Year, the Governor announced the “No Student Goes Hungry Proposal” for the 2018 State of the State. This five-point plan aims to combat hunger for nearly 1 million children who struggle to have the food they need for a healthy and active life.

This impressive proposal includes a number of measures to increase the number of students with access to school meals—including an end to lunch shaming statewide and a requirement for breakfast after the bell in high-need schools.

Perhaps even more ambitious, is a proposed increase in school meal reimbursement for schools purchasing local items. The Governor has proposed a nearly 20 cent increase (from 5.9 cents to 25 cents) in reimbursement for schools that source 30% of their food from NY Farms. With such a meaningful increase in funding, this proposal has the power to get more fresh, healthy food to children facing hunger across the state and boost the agricultural economy at the same time. Not surprisingly, a statewide coalition of more than 70 groups strongly supports this proposal.

All in all, big steps in the right direction for food here in New York State. Now we just need to make these proposals a reality.

About the Authors

Margaret Brown

Senior Attorney, NY Regional, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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