Monday, May 4, 2009

CA's Food & Ag Cmte

New Senate Food and Ag Committee not following the herd
By Malcolm Maclachlan 05/04/09 12:00 AM PST

One of the first things you'll see upon entering the office of Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, is a big stack of books by authors such as Michael Pollan, the Berkeley writer known for his opposition to large-scale agribusiness. Along the far wall is a poster for Proposition 2, the 2008 Farm Animal Protection Act.

"It looks a little different that most Ag committee chair's libraries," Florez said. He chuckled, then added, "I think the Ag industry comes in and looks at this and goes, ‘Oh.'"

They're also saying similar things about the bills coming out of his committee, Florez said. In January, he and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, held a press conference announcing that Florez was taking over the committee and adding the word "Food" to its name.

This signaled a new direction for a committee that, according to many, has traditionally represented the interests of the agriculture industry. The committee held a hearing last week and passed out three Florez bills opposed by agribusiness groups. His SB 135 would ban the practice of cutting off cow's tails, while his SB 416 would bar antibiotics from meat served in school lunches. SB 173 imposes stricter responsibilities around food-borne pathogens. Florez is also carrying bills that would restrict agricultural crop burning and impose new requirements for food safety.

Jennifer Fearing, a lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and one of the chief strategists behind last year's Prop. 2, said this was a big part of the reason for the revamping of the committee. She and her boss, HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, sat down with Florez in December to talk strategy.

"Twenty years of attempting to pass modest reforms on animal welfare have gotten us nowhere," Fearing said. "Does it really have to be this way? We posed that question to Senator Florez as someone who had really supported Prop. 2." Read More

This new Food and Ag Committee in the California Senate appears to have been the brainchild of the Humane Society of the US. Their meeting with Dean Florez is apparently where this new committee was born. Between that and Florez’s agreement with Michael Pollan on food production ideas, California agriculture is in trouble. So far, many of the bills that are coming out of this committee have been detrimental to not only our ability to produce food, but also have been detrimental to animal welfare. These are feel good ideas that will not fill anyone’s stomach.

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