As the nation’s number one agricultural producer and exporter, California’s agricultural policy has always influenced what goes on in the rest of the country. Recent changes to the old California Senate Agriculture Committee will see if this trend continues as the state works to become a leader in creating a sustainable farm system.
On January 13, 2009, the California Senate Agriculture Committee was renamed the Committee on Food and Agriculture. And its leaders announced that it will no longer focus solely on grower and food producer issues, but also on larger consumer-focused issues including sustainability, food safety and farm animal welfare.
The reorganized committee represents a new vision that recognizes the need to protect natural resources at the same time it has to feed a growing population. It also brings a new focus on agriculture’s role in developing sustainable communities that support healthy lives and healthy communities.
The biggest change that this committee brings is the recognition that consumers have thus far not been given a voice in Sacramento. For too long, only producers and those in the industry dominated the state’s agricultural policy.
The Committee is led by Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez who outlines the new committee’s agenda on its new web site. “It was my goal, when reorganizing the Food and Agriculture Committee, to create the first ever forum where consumers and policy makers can discuss the fundamental topics of food safety, sustainable farming, animal welfare, and food security,” he wrote.
One change addressing the food security issue will be the inclusion of urban legislators on the committee, which has historically been made up of rural members. This is in response to the recognition that most urban residents need increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
As part of the goal to include consumer input, over the next year, the Food and Agriculture Committee will be holding a series of public hearings across the state and are seeking public input as they prepare for these hearings.
That’s why they have created a new website http://www.californiasafefood.com/ that provides both information on the committee’s change but also encourages public input on policy issues ahead of the public hearings. Those interested can sign up for email newsletters and updates on upcoming hearings, or post on the message board.