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Trans Fat Ban page 1


Testimony prepared by
Áine Duggan
for the

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Board of Health
Public Hearing on Notice of Intention
TO ADD §81.08 TO ARTICLE 81 of
THE NEW YORK CITY HEALTH CODE

on behalf of
Food Bank For New York City

Introduction

Good morning. I am Áine Duggan, Vice President for Government Relations, Policy & Research with the Food Bank For New York City. The Food Bank appreciates the opportunity to present testimony regarding the proposal to add §81.08 to Article 81 of the New York City Health Code.

First, I would like to acknowledge the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for highlighting the importance of improving the nutrition of New Yorkers.

The Food Bank For New York City's three-pronged approach to hunger relief — food procurement and distribution; education and technical support for our network of community food programs; and research on food assistance needs within New York City — is fundamental to the Food Bank's ongoing mission "to end hunger by organizing food, information, and support for community survival and dignity."

In my testimony today I wish to provide an overview of the emergency food system in New York City that will help to outline the potential negative impacts of the Health Department's proposal to "partially phase out artificial trans fat in food preparation in all food service establishments" on the city's network of emergency food programs, and the approximately 1.2 million New Yorkers they serve annually.

Background

To fully understand the impact of the proposed trans fat ban on the emergency food system it is important to understand how the system is structured: how the system operates; where the food comes from; and the role of the emergency food network in food safety and nutrition.

How the Emergency Food System Works in New York City

Food Bank For New York City is the only food bank in the city and is the hub of the emergency food system throughout the five boroughs. The Food Bank is a member of America's Second Harvest: The Nation's Food Bank Network (a national network of more than 200 food banks, of which Food Bank For New York City is the largest). Founded in 1983, the Food Bank collects, warehouses and distributes food to a network of approximately 1,200 emergency and community food programs citywide, including soup kitchens, food pantries, senior centers, rehabilitation programs, kids cafes and after-school programs. In turn, these emergency and community food programs distribute food (including prepared meals, food pantry bags and snacks) to more than one million New Yorkers at risk of hunger.

Most emergency food programs are small, have few resources and are operated by neighborhood, faith-based organizations. The average annual budget for emergency food programs citywide is $49,445, with half of all programs surviving on annual budgets of $17,500 or less. It is therefore not surprising that 90 percent of all programs rely on volunteers, and that most programs have a limited ability to operate. The majority of programs provide food service only one or two days per week — indeed, less than 6 percent of programs in the network operate seven days a week.[1]

Research demonstrates that the city's emergency food program network is serving approximately 1.2 million New Yorkers, approximately half of all city residents at risk of hunger. The population accessing emergency food services is largely comprised of the elderly, the disabled, women with children and the working poor. For these groups, the gap between income and basic living expenses often forces a choice between essential needs — rent, utilities, medical bills — and buying food.[2]

What Is Emergency Food and Where Does It Come From?

As the primary supplier of food to the network of emergency food programs throughout the city, the Food Bank distributes government- and privately funded emergency food, including:

  • USDA-funded Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
  • FEMA-funded Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP)
  • NYS Department of Health Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP)
  • New York City Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), including New York City Council EFAP, administered by the City's Human Resources Administration (HRA)
  • Donated and wholesale food

Last year, the Food Bank distributed more than 67 million pounds of food to the network, which helped the programs provide approximately 250,000 meals a day to New Yorkers in need. During the past five years the amount of food distributed by the Food Bank has increased by more than half, indicating the extent of hunger in the city. However, during the same time period, government funding for emergency food has largely remained flat or been cut, thus increasing the reliance of the emergency food program network on donated food. For example, in the past year alone food donations to the Food Bank increased by 17 percent from the previous year (from 21.5 million pounds in FY05 to 25.2 million pounds in FY06).

Currently, the government emergency food programs USDA-TEFAP, FEMA-EFSP, NYSDOH-HPNAP and HRA-EFAP constitute 63 percent of the overall food distributed by the Food Bank, down 15 percent from just three years ago. Also, government contracts are essentially a source for shelf-stable, canned and dry goods, as less than one percent of government product is fresh produce or meat. In addition, the Food Bank only controls food purchasing for the NYSDOH-HPNAP, FEMA-EFSP and City Council food programs, which amounts to just 8.5 percent of the total food distributed. The vast majority of the government food is comprised of USDA-TEFAP (39 percent) and HRA-EFAP (19 percent), for which food selection and purchasing is controlled by the respective government agencies. To date, a full analysis of the TEFAP and EFAP food containing trans fat is not available. If the proposed ban is approved it is anticipated that the city-funded EFAP food will be in compliance with the ban. However, EFAP food currently comprises less than one-fifth of the total food within the New York City emergency food system.

As mentioned, the shortfall in government funding for emergency food is partially compensated by donated food that currently comprises more than one-third (34 percent) of the Food Bank's total distribution. The Food Bank secures donations from local donors and nationally via a bid-based ordering system through America's Second Harvest. In addition to addressing quantitative needs, the Food Bank constantly works with vendors and donors to improve the quality of the food entering the emergency food system. For example, last year the Food Bank distributed more fresh food than ever before, including more than 11 million pounds of fresh produce (an increase of 243 percent from 3.2 million pounds just three years ago).

Understanding the nature of how food is donated to the emergency food system is crucial to realizing the negative impact of the proposed trans fat ban on the emergency food program network. The composition of donated food is determined by the donor and is delivered to the Food Bank in mixed assortments. Put simply, donated loads typically contain a mix of healthy, nutritious food with less nutritional food items, the full details of which are only available once the donation has been received. It can be said that a certain percentage of food that is donated to the emergency food system is heavily influenced by market trends and events.

Some emergency food programs use additional sources of food in addition to the Food Bank. If budgets allow, programs may purchase extra food to meet community needs. Similarly, programs accept rescued food as well as local donations from food drives and other sources.

The Role of Nutrition in the Emergency Food System

The Food Bank and its network are very invested in improving the nutrition of New Yorkers at risk of hunger. To this end, Agency Relations is a core function of the Food Bank and includes a diverse range of support services, such as program monitoring (conducted by licensed community nutritionists and community program specialists); education and training, including nutrition and food safety workshops; and a volunteer referral program to support the capacity of the programs to operate.

Examples of current projects that are already improving access to healthy food for low-income New Yorkers include the Kids Cafe Program — advanced after-school programs in low-income communities that provide nutrition education and exercise curricula to instill healthy eating habits and behavior at a young age; the Fresh Food Initiative — which seeks to increase donations of fresh food; and Benefits Outreach Centers — which help to connect New Yorkers at risk of hunger with benefits for which they are eligible, including food stamps.

Consideration of the Trans Fat Ban

In keeping with our strong commitment to improving the health and nutrition of New Yorkers at risk of hunger, the Food Bank is pleased to share our concern about the content of emergency food with the Department of Health. The nutritional value of fresh lean meat, poultry, and fish, fruits and vegetables indisputably outweighs that of the processed food that insufficient incomes cause families and individuals at risk of hunger to rely on. Sadly, the cheapest food items available are all too often riddled with a variety of ingredients that pose health risks, such as trans fat, high-fructose corn syrup and salt. The Food Bank seeks to increase access to healthy, fresh food for low-income New Yorkers, and has some concerns that the proposed trans fat ban may inadvertently impede some of this work.


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