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Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: Public sector progress, 2016-2018

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The MA Food Plan: Public sector progress

State makes progress on food plan goals
Report cites accomplishments, opportunities for further work, need for comprehensive solutions

Three years since the state of Massachusetts released the MA Local Food Action Plan, a report finds that action by the legislature, the administration, and state agencies has resulted in progress toward some of the Plan’s goals, and that additional efforts are needed on others.

The Plan includes a set of goals, recommendations, and action items for food system stakeholders to take in support of a more sustainable and equitable food system for the Commonwealth. Many of the Plan’s recommendations call for action on the part of state government, including the governor, the legislature, and state boards and agencies. The report, published by the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, serves as a status report on the Plan’s public sector recommendations. It is also intended to remind state policymakers of the need and opportunities to elevate food system policy, regulation, and investment as a whole.

The report, Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: Public sector progress, 2016-2018, cites a number of recent state budget items and bills signed into law that directly address recommendations offered by the Plan, including:

  • $7.5 million in funding for the Healthy Incentives Program, which doubles SNAP families’ purchases of local foods.
  • A $2 million increase in the dairy tax credit, which helps Massachusetts dairy farms stay in business when the cost of production is more than the federally-set price paid for bulk milk.
  • A $1 million program to help farmers address the impacts of climate change.
  • The passage of a law that reduces the estate tax burden on farmers’ heirs.
  • Progress on ensuring that families eligible for SNAP receive benefits.
  • Investments made in marketing local seafood.
  • Significant updates to the state’s food safety regulations.

A number of recommendations from the Plan are cited as areas where the state has fallen short, such as:

  • Not having spent funds authorized in past years’ environmental bond bills that would help protect farmland and sustain farms.
  • Failing to move ahead with the development of a state Farmland Action Plan to establish formal farmland protection goals and benchmarks.
  • Not passing laws and regulations designed to reduce wasted edible food.
  • A lack of sufficient effort to evaluate and revive the state’s local food marketing programs.
  • Failing to pass a bill that would allow for local tax credits for urban agriculture.
  • Missed opportunities to consider comprehensive policy change.

Many other recommendations from the Plan are listed in the report as having had incremental progress as a result of action by state agencies and the legislature.

The report emphasizes the need for comprehensive efforts to address the challenges of the food system. “Considering any of the issues raised in the Plan to be solely the purview of single agency or committee misses opportunities to forge solutions that efficiently and effectively build a food system that is equitable and sustainable,” says Winton Pitcoff, director of the Collaborative. “Each sector of the food system is connected to the others, and this intricate web means wise investments and comprehensive policies can have deep and broad positive impacts, and neglect can cause irreparable harm.”