Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Testimony: An Act To Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions

Testimony of Representative Craig Hickman, LD 1254: An Act To Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions Before the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government, April 22, 2013
Good afternoon Senator Lachowicz, Representative Graham and other distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.  My name is Craig Hickman. I represent District 82, Winthrop and Readfield, and I stand before you today to present LD 1254, “An Act To Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions.”

Pursuant to Title 7 of the Maine Revised Statutes, Chapter 8-A: Food and Food Policy, Subchapter 1: Purchase of Foodstuffs from Maine, which is attached to this testimony, “It is the policy of the State to encourage food self-sufficiency for the State. State institutions and school districts in the State shall purchase food produced by Maine farmers or fishermen, provided that food is available in adequate quantity and meets acceptable quality standards, and is priced competitively.”

What a great concept. In 2005, the Legislature removed from the implementation section of the same subchapter the amounts to be expended by institutional facilities and school districts. This bill inserts benchmarks that institutions and public schools adhere to for the amount of food purchased from Maine food producers: at least 15% for the 10 years beginning in 2014; at least 25% for the next ten years; and at least 35% beginning in 2034. 

As presented, I did not suggest an amendment to strike the words “excluding milk and eggs” from the implementation language. Milk and eggs were excluded when this section of statute was created in 1983 because institutions and schools were already purchasing most of their milk and eggs from Maine farms. If the committee sees fit to amend the statute further and include Maine milk and eggs with an understanding that you would have to amend the entire subchapter and not just section 213, then I believe the proposed baseline percentages should be increased significantly. 

The remainder of Chapter 8-A, Subchapter 1 outlines how these purchases shall be coordinated. It states: 

“The commissioner shall designate an employee of the department to serve as a food purchasing coordinator to assist in the development of connections between state and school purchasers, Maine food producers and brokers and wholesales of food. 

“The food purchasing coordinator shall cause to be held an annual meeting that brings together producers, wholesalers, buyers and food service professionals to enhance opportunities for cooperation and expand the purchase of local foodstuffs by institutions and public schools. 

“The commissioner shall establish an advisory committee to discuss possibilities and review proposals for expanding purchases of local foodstuffs. The commissioner shall invite one or more representatives from each of the following agencies to serve on the advisory committee: the Department of Education; the Department of Marine Resources; the Department of Corrections; the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, Bureau of Purchases; the Department of Health and Human Services; the University of Maine System; and the Maine Community College System.”

In short, our state government is charged by statute to collaborate across departments to coordinate the purchase of foods from Maine food producers in all state institutions. If we’re spending taxpayer dollars feeding people who work at or attend our colleges and public schools, who work at or serve time in our correctional facilities, or who work at or receive care in our hospitals, then why not spend as much of our money as we can on food grown, harvested, caught, or produced in our great state? 

We will increase markets for Maine farmers, fishermen, and other small businesses that produce and process food, create Maine jobs, reduce the amount of food we import, and take a giant step towards food self-sufficiency, which remains the policy of the State.

Now, then, there’s nothing to it but to do it.

I humbly ask that you vote unanimously ought to pass on LD 1254. Thank you.

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