2008 Update from the
New York State Assembly
Assemblyman José Rivera
Sheldon Silver, Speaker • José Rivera, Chair

Message from the Chair

Dear Friends:

photo Assemblyman José Rivera and his son City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera discuss proposals to expand availability of healthy, locally grown foods in all neighborhoods in NYC.

At the end of the year our thoughts turn to food. Thanksgiving and the winter holidays tend to revolve around family gatherings. Because of these events, it is also a common time of the year for donations of food for the hungry. This year, in April, the Legislature approved a budget that included an additional $5 million for emergency food programs. Recently, the Governor announced that he was releasing another $5 million on top of what we provided in the budget. It couldn’t have come at a better time - nearly 60 percent of New York City food pantries report they don’t have enough food to meet the increased demand.

Elsewhere in this newsletter you can read about other food, farm and nutrition funding that was increased in this year’s state budget. We also had success in sponsoring two new laws, one related to food allergies and another to eating disorders. In addition, long time Task Force issues such as nutrition standards in schools and expanded school breakfast programs rose to prominence. Bills from the Assembly, Senate and Governor are still being negotiated. I applaud our Legislative leaders, Governor, and Education Committee Chairs for recognizing the importance of improving child nutrition.

This past year, the Governor established a State Food Policy Council through Executive Order. The Task Force had pushed for such a council for years and developed legislation two years ago that formed the basis for the direction and goals of the current council. We look forward to working with the Governor to advance a proactive agenda to reduce hunger, improve nutrition and health, and promote local food and farms as part of every food-related policy and program. We are very pleased to have a committed partner.

Although we made much progress this year, there is still more to do. Consumers are increasingly demanding locally grown food. We need to continue government support for our farmers and develop innovative solutions to facilitate transportation and distribution of New York farm products to stores and restaurants and even emergency food programs, especially into our largest market, New York City. We hope to see progress toward a wholesale farmers’ market for New York farmers in the Bronx.

In this newsletter you will find information about legislation, budget work and meetings sponsored by the Task Force. Please feel free to contact us with your ideas and suggestions. I look forward to working with all of you to improve the quality, accessibility, safety, and affordability of food for all New Yorkers.

José Rivera

State Budget Adds Funds to Fight Hunger, Help Struggling Farmers, Improve Health and Nutrition

The 2007 State budget adopted by the Legislature included significantly increased funding for food assistance, dairy farmers, childhood obesity prevention and a new wholesale market in New York City for local farmers. The Task Force has worked to advance these issues for years.

Assemblyman José Rivera, Chair of the Task Force, stated, “It is good news that the budget increased funding to support the volunteers who provide food at churches, synagogues, mosques, shelters and other neighborhood providers. Unfortunately, our society does not provide living wages and affordable housing, which forces hundreds of thousands of families and seniors to wait in line to get food handouts to eat. It’s also important that we provide education and health care to make sure that in addition to food assistance we reduce diabetes and obesity, which severely impact low-income communities.”

Food, Farm and Nutrition budget highlights included:

  • $5 million increase in hunger prevention funding for foodbanks, soup kitchens and food pantries (Note: In November another $5 million was allocated for these programs)

  • $30 million in payments to dairy farmers to prevent further loss of farms

  • $1 million increase in senior home-delivered meal programs

  • $100,000 increase for the WIC nutrition program for pregnant women, infants and children

  • $2 million ($300,000 for this year) increase for childhood obesity prevention including Body Mass Index (BMI) data collection

  • $500,000 for a New York City wholesale farmers’ market

According to Rivera, “Even though I am from the Bronx, I recognize the importance of agriculture to our economy and to our consumers in New York City who want local sources of nutritious food. That is why I supported helping our state’s dairy farmers, hundreds of whom were facing the prospect of bankruptcy because of low milk prices, high feed costs and losses from floods. The $30 million in emergency funding the Legislature provided will help keep those farms from going under, and maintain a local supply of dairy products for our consumers. I also support helping increase sales of local farm products to New York City restaurants and institutions and urge the Governor to locate the New York City wholesale farmers’ market in the Bronx where other food wholesale markets such as the Fulton Fish Market and Hunts Point Cooperative are located.”

According to the Department of Agriculture and Markets, “In 2006, the price dairy farmers received for their milk was well below that of 25 years ago and below the costs of production. Costs of production continue to increase with very high fuel, feed, energy, fertilizer and other operating costs. These conditions have resulted in unprecedented losses for dairy farms. The USDA estimates that New York lost 460 commercial dairy farms in 2006. While milk prices are currently on the rise, increased costs of production and high debt loads continue to challenge New York’s dairy industry.”

Rivera looks forward to working with his colleagues in the Legislature and the Governor next year to continue to help struggling families and seniors access nutritious food and education to improve their health, improve the food supply for consumers and expand opportunities for food businesses and farmers.

New Law Would Develop Polices for Schools to Prevent and Respond to Anaphylaxis Caused by Exposure to Allergens

Life-threatening severe allergic reactions can cause the potentially fatal condition anaphylaxis, which is a collection of symptoms including breathing difficulties and a drop in blood pressure or shock. It is estimated that 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population is at risk for anaphylaxis from food allergies and insect stings. Asthmatic subjects are at particular risk. Approximately 100 food-related anaphylactic deaths are recognized each year in the US.

According to Assemblyman Rivera, “There are increasing numbers of children with severe allergies and most of the people who die from food allergy reactions are children. When children receive treatment quickly after having an allergic reaction, they are more likely to survive. Having a school plan ahead for these problems can help prevent a child from dying. My bill would have experts assist the Health and Education Commissioners to develop a policy for schools to implement plans for children with severe allergies.”

The legislation would have the Commissioner of Health in consultation with the Commissioner of Education develop anaphylactic policy guidelines for schools to prevent anaphylaxis and deal with medical emergencies resulting from it. The policy guidelines would be developed with input from pediatricians, school nurses, other health care providers, parents of children with life-threatening allergies, school administrators, teachers, school foodservice directors, and not-for-profits representing allergic individuals. By June 30, 2008, the Commissioners would jointly send the policy developed to school districts to consider and take action on.

The schools would either adopt the policy or use it to develop their own plans for their schools and for each child who has a severe allergy.

“The policies would prepare the schools for what to do if a child does have a serious allergic reaction. The school nurse would have the medicine for that child to take in an emergency to save that child’s life. The school nurse could train the teachers and the bus drivers so they would know what signs to look for and what to do if the child goes into shock. There would be a plan for other school staff to react when the school nurse wasn’t available or when the child was on the bus or when the child left for a school trip. The policy would also have plans for the cafeteria to make sure the child doesn’t come in contact with food that the child is allergic to,” said Rivera.

Most food allergies are caused by the following foods: peanuts, other nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, wheat and soy. Avoidance of a specific allergen is key but complete avoidance of all allergenic foods is difficult because there can be hidden or accidentally introduced sources. Accidental food ingestion can occur despite avoidance measures. Treatment should be immediately available for these emergency situations.

Helping Prevent Eating Disorders in Child Performers

In the past few years the media has reported about fashion models suffering from fatal eating disorders. The cities of Madrid and Milan have instituted guidelines for screening, referral and even minimum weight to help prevent future tragedies. The Council of Fashion Designers of America developed guidelines but these have been criticized by organizations and health professionals who work to prevent and treat eating disorders.

“Several models and other entertainment professionals have died or suffered greatly from eating disorders because of the pressure in these industries and our society to be thin. As a result, some governments overseas have looked at weight or health requirements for fashion models. The fashion industry in the U.S. formed a group to come up with recommendations to resolve this problem but the health experts believe the industry can’t properly police itself,” said Rivera.

Assemblyman Rivera sponsored a new law, Assembly bill A.4250-A, to create an advisory board to recommend standards and guidelines for the employment of child performers and models under the age of 18 to prevent eating disorders. The advisory board will be made up of health experts, industry representatives, and models and entertainment professionals and would report to the Commissioner of Labor on the need for employment restrictions, weight or body mass index (BMI) requirements, medical screenings, referral protocols, and education programs.

According to Rivera, “New York City is one of the world’s leaders in fashion and entertainment and we don’t want to do anything to harm those industries. At the same time, we need responsible protections in place, especially for younger workers. My law will involve the industry, along with medical experts, and models and entertainers themselves, to come up with guidelines. However, we will also use the power of the government to impose rules and regulations to protect the workers. I also expect that this law will help prevent these problems throughout society by raising awareness and emphasizing a healthy attitude about body size among impressionable young fans of models and entertainers.”

In May of 2000, the British Medical Association identified a link between the images of “abnormally thin” models, which are increasingly common in the media, and a rise in eating disorders.

New York State Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy

Agency #4, (Note: new floor number) 12th Floor • Albany, NY 12248
Telephone: 518.455.5203 • Fax: 518.455.4175 • E-mail:

New York State Assembly
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