OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bill hailed by supporters as a way to promote small-scale farming, but panned by critics as unneeded and a put-down of agribusiness passed the House on Friday by a 53-46 vote.
House Bill 1685 would require the State Conservation Commission to form a “food policy forum.” The panel would study how public agencies and private organizations could increase production and consumption of locally grown food.
The measure passed the Democratic-controlled House with little Republican support. The bill now goes to the GOP-led Senate.
The bill’s prime sponsor, SeaTac Democrat Mia Gregerson, said the forum’s recommendations could lead to slimmer and healthier residents.
“This bill is about opportunity, efficiency and building a healthy Washington,” she said. “It’s about building on existing public-private partnerships and making the most out of our government resources. This forum ensures that every part of the food-related process, from farm to table, is a complete, integrated and accessible system.”
Without offering suggestions, the bill sets down several goals, such as protecting land for sustained production and ensuring everyone has access to nutritious food. It would require Washington State University to participate.
The bill does not specify how many people would be on the food forum, making pinpointing the cost of running the group difficult, according to a report by the Office Financial Management.
OFM estimated the forum would cost the state $100,000 in the coming two years and maybe more later, depending on its recommendations.
The State Conservation Commission is the state agency that helps Washington’s 45 conservation districts preserve wildlife habitat and farmland.
The ranking Republican on the House agriculture committee, Vincent Buys of Lynden, disputed the idea that some residents don’t have access to healthy food grown in Washington.
“We have grocery stores in every area that provide high-quality foods” that come from all parts of Washington state, he said.
“To somehow imply our large-scale agriculture products are unsafe or not as of high quality as some of the locally produced agriculture products, I think does a disservice to the state, and I think is offensive to a lot of those farmers who work those long hours and create a high-quality product. They just don’t do it on a smaller scale,” he said.
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said he sympathized with the bill’s goals, but criticized the measure as a “top-down policy.” He urged lawmakers to reject the measure and work more directly with producers to eliminate barriers to food production and distribution.