A Look Back At California's 2014 Food Laws

When it comes to policy changes, most of us have a little ADD. If an issue isn't front and center in the newspapers, or screaming at us from our TVs, we tend to forget it. (If you think this isn't the case, head over to any pub trivia this month, when they break out their "Year in Review" quizzes, and see how well you do.) The problem is that it's only once we forget about them that most policy changes take affect.

It's important to take stock of what went on the past year. That kind of work, however, takes going through transcripts and summaries of legal sessions, and those are not the most stimulating of reads. Luckily, the California Food Policy Council did the heavy lifting for us.

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In the calendar year of 2014, the California state government saw 22 food or farming bills appear before the legislation that could, in their words, "positively influence food system reform." Of those, 15 made it to a floor vote, and of that, 12 made it to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. After he got through with his vetoes, nine of those measures were signed into law.

They are, in no specific order:

- SB 1087, which protects laborers and farm workers from sexual harassment.
- AB 1249, which allows the Department of Water Resources to consider more aspects when deciding what regional water management groups should get grants.
- AB 1614, which gives EBT users better access to their transaction history, as well as protection for CalWORKS recipients from predatory practices.
- AB 1789, which forces the Department of Pesticide Regulation to make a final ruling on whether or not neonicotinoids are actually harming bees by 2018, with subsequent regulation taking place by 2020.
- AB 1871, which increases vendor fees at farmers' markets. (More of which can be read about here.)
- AB 1930, which updates CalFresh work exemptions for college students.
- AB 2185, which allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to keep bees on its land under their regulation.
- AB 2413, which establishes the Office of Farm to Fork.
- AB 2561, which requires landlords to allow their residents to grow their own foods.

All in all, a busy year in the area of California food regulation. Well, it's a busy year every year. In fact, despite all the things that got done, it wasn't all great news. For example, the seven bills that didn't even make it to the floor for a vote could have drastically altered how the state handles food. Among them: (1) AB 1437, which would have created stricter standards for how antibiotics are used in animals; (2) SB 1381, which would have made the state a leader in GMO labeling; and (3) SB 1000, which would have added a warning label to sugar sweetened beverages.

Which is why, at the end of the day, this legislative year gets more of a "pass" grade than an "Honors" certificate:

(I should also point out, at the end of the report is an easy-to-read scorecard if you're looking to see how a specific congressional member voted.)

So, where does this all leave us? We can take some small satisfaction in the tiny incremental moves in the right direction, while being annoyed at the lost possibilities that comes with no sweeping changes. Not a leap forward, but tiny steps towards that direction. In other words, pretty much the standard legislative session. Don't be shocked if next year follows the small trajectory.

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