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Boston City Council Passes Groundbreaking Food Justice Ordinance

"This will have ripple effects throughout the entire nation"

Boston winter farmers market

"In short, the Good Food Purchasing Program helps build the local, sustainable, thriving food culture that we know we need—for the sake of our planet and for the health of generations to come," said Corporate Accountability's Alexa Kaczmarski.(Photo: Yarian Gomez/flickr/cc)

Food justice advocates heaped praise on Boston Monday after the city's legislative body unanimously passed an ordinance that boosts the local economy and environment as well as workers, animal welfare, and healthful eating.

"With this passage, Boston has loosened the stranglehold that corporations have over our food system, especially in schools," said Alexa Kaczmarski, senior organizer at Corporate Accountability, following the vote on the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP).

"This will have ripple effects throughout the entire nation," she added.

The GFPP, sponsored by Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu, affects public food purchasers, the largest of which is the Boston Public Schools, which has a $18 million food budget.

As noted in (pdf) the ordinance, the purchasers will follow a set of standards in order to

  1. Support small and mid-sized agricultural and food processing operations within the local area or region;
  2. Support producers that employ sustainable production systems that reduce or eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; avoid the use of hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering; conserve soil and water; protect and enhance wildlife habitat and biodiversity; and reduce on-farm energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions;
  3. Protect workers' rights to freedom of association, to organize a union and collectively bargain in order to better ensure safe and healthy working conditions, fair compensation,and access to health insurance and affordable child care for all food chain workers;
  4. Ensure farmers a fair price for their products that covers the cost of production and fair remuneration for their management and labor;
  5. Provide healthy and humane care for farm animals; and
  6. Promote health and well-being by offering generous portions of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains; reducing salt, added sugars, fats, and oils; and by eliminating artificial additives.

The ordinance will also

Encourage prospective food vendors to invest in our disadvantaged and minority communities by including in procurement requests preferences for prospective vendors who demonstrate a track record of hiring and investing in local disadvantaged communities; provide living wages to all their employees, including frontline foodworkers; are local minority, disabled, and/or women-owned businesses; and are local producers and processors operating in low-income communities and employing non-toxic, environmentally sustainable methods

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"In short," said Kaczmarski, "GFPP helps build the local, sustainable, thriving food culture that we know we need—for the sake of our planet and for the health of generations to come."

The ordinance—which now heads to the mayor's desk for likely approval before it can be implemented—was backed by a diverse coalition including Corporate Accountability, Farm to Institution New England, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.

"Congratulations to the City of Boston for their leadership in the region," said Suzanne Adely of the Food Chain Workers Alliance.

"The Good Food Purchasing Policy is not only expected to redirect millions of dollars to local producers and improve nutrition, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare, but also to create the infrastructure to improve wages and working conditions for hundreds of thousands of food workers and their families. Boston Public Schools' adoption of the Good Food Purchasing Program is a huge leap forward in the quest of good food for all," she continued.

The Boston City Council's move follows similar food purchasing policies taken by Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Oakland Unified School District, and Chicago Public Schools. But according to food system transformation organization Real Food Media, the New England city took things a step further:

"The Boston ordinance looks to be one of the strongest yet, with explicit language around racial equity outcomes and transparency."

* This article has been edited to reflect that Adely represents the Food Chain Workers Alliance, not the ASPCA. We regret the error. 

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