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Florida food banks could get a financial boost to provide fresh produce

A person holding gloves gives a box of assorted food to a another person
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A Florida House staff analysis found that an estimated 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten. It also found that one-fifth of Floridians — including one million children — are food insecure.

A proposal aimed at helping charities like food banks get discounted prices for fresh foods is moving in both chambers of the Florida Legislature.

Lawmakers are considering a pilot program to help curb food insecurity.

"Approximately 20% of Floridians are food insecure, including over 1 million children, and too often those who are food insecure lack access to high quality food products which contributes to an overall lower quality of life,” said Sen. Danny Burgess R-Zephyrhills, explaining his bill to the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Committee.

It directs the Department of Agriculture to implement a program that would provide incentives to companies to sell fresh products to so-called food recovery entities.

Republican Representative Rick Roth has been working on the House version of the bill for years. He’s a sugar cane and vegetable farmer in Palm Beach County

“The first thing that I really was trying to do four years ago was to improve the quality of the produce that goes to the Food Recovery entities,” Roth told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Roth says he also wants to bolster the quantity of food being distributed.

“We learned with COVID-19 that there's a much bigger need for food recovery,” Roth said. “That's what the goal of my bill is…to really be able to grow and expand their food recovery program by putting in some guardrails, by having some assurances that the quality of the product will be better, that the money will be spent in a transparent and accountable way.”

During the height of the pandemic, Roth says he saw cars lined up for food in his district that were often getting produce that was going bad. That was the catalyst for this year’s proposal.

It defines various terms like “food producers” and “high-quality fresh food products.” It says nonprofit food programs would be able to purchase produce at no more than 50 percent of the “current wholesale market price” from growers.

“The Food Recovery entity would have to provide an invoice and a lot of other information because we want to know what the age of the product was and the quality of the product,” Roth said “So that's what my bill does is require information, telling you the harvest date, and also other factors.”

“Thank you, Representative Roth, for working this policy for all these years and trying to keep agricultural alive in the state of Florida and help feed the masses,” said Rep. Keith Truenow, R-Tavares. “Thank you for your persistence.”

A House staff analysis found that an estimated 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten.

If approved, the pilot program would be funded at $5 million in the state budget that starts July 1st.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.