A nine-measure package of legislation Assembly Democrats John J. Burzichelli, Vince Mazzeo, Troy Singleton, Bob Andrzejczak and Adam Taliaferro sponsored to boost New Jersey's agricultural prospects and promote via marketing campaigns foods made in the state cleared an Assembly panel on Monday.
"New Jersey's status as 'The Garden State' hinges on our ability to preserve farmland and promote our natural resources," said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Cape May/Salem). "These bills emphasize the importance of agriculture in the state, which ultimately will be a boon to our economy."
"As a grocer, I have seen first-hand the impact promoting fresh, locally-grown products has on customers. Residents of New Jersey simply appreciate the opportunity to support the local economy," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "These measures will help lift New Jersey's overall economic outlook by facilitating farming and promoting the local products consumers desire."
"Agriculture is part of the basic cultural and economic framework of New Jersey," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "This bill package puts forth a number of simple yet significant means of strengthening this fundamental industry."
"Businesses related to food and agriculture employ thousands of men and women in the state, and those hard-working individuals and their families depend on New Jersey maintaining a top-notch farming industry," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). "This legislation, in addition to making sure that New Jersey's consumers can enjoy the best agricultural products, is about building up the industry on behalf of the producers."
"New Jersey is an agricultural powerhouse, and in large part, our identity lies in upholding that status," said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland/Salem/Gloucester). "Taking into account the concerns of the state's farming community, these bills will help our state better produce and promote quality goods."
Legislation in the package:
· A-4376 (Burzichelli): The bill would clarify the definition of "agricultural deed restriction for farmland preservation purposes," to ensure that all land maintained as part of the state's farmland preservation program is kept in agricultural use.
· A-4377 (Mazzeo/Burzichelli): The bill would require the State Board of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture to set standards for the use of the labels "local," "locally grown," "locally raised" and "locally produced" for New Jersey products.
· A-4378 (Singleton/Burzichelli): The bill would allow the collection of seeds from a wild native plant without a permit. Currently, nurseries in the state are prohibited from collecting wild native seeds for the purpose of propagating them for environmental sound and preservation projects, forcing the nurseries to import seeds from out of state.
· A-4379 (Mazzeo/Burzichelli): The bill would direct the Department of Health, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, to issue guidance to farmers and local health authorities regarding food safety at farmers markets. New Jersey farmers markets are governed as retail food establishments, but local health authorities' interpretations of laws regarding such establishments vary. The guidance document for which the bill calls would inform farmers and local health authorities of how to properly interpret health regulations.
· A-4380 (Andrzejczak): The bill would establish a multi-species depredation permit for the taking, capturing and transport of wildlife that threatens public safety or damages crops or livestock. Currently, land owners attempting to protect land from crop or livestock damage must apply for a separate permit for each species jeopardizing the property. Andrzejczak noted that the multi-species permit would eliminate the bureaucracy associated with this process.
· A-4381 (Taliaferro/Mazzeo): In a manner similar to the Jersey Fresh program, this bill would establish the "Jersey Canned Goods Program" in the Department of Agriculture. The department would adopt regulations to promote the sale of canned goods containing foods made in New Jersey and create a labeling program to identify canned goods containing New Jersey agricultural commodities.
· A-4382 (Taliaferro/Mazzeo): In a manner similar to the "Jersey Canned Goods Program," this bill would establish the "Jersey Frozen Foods Program" in the Department of Agriculture.
· A-4383 (Mazzeo/Taliaferro): The bill would require the commissioner of the Department of Health, in administering the "Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program" (SFMNP) established under federal law, to issue SFMNP food vouchers to eligible seniors in multiple monetary denominations. The bill would also facilitate the establishment of a pilot program to test the feasibility of allowing SFMNP participants to use food vouchers to purchase shares of fresh, locally-produced farm products produced through community supported agriculture.
· AJR-109 (Andrzejczak/Mazzeo): The resolution would designate the third weekend in October as "Shuck, Sip and Slurp Weekend" to promote New Jersey oysters, wine and beer.
The measures were advanced by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, of which Andrzejczak is chair.