The Food Law and Policy Clinic of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation was established in 2010 to link Harvard Law students with opportunities to work with clients and communities on various food law and policy issues. The Initiative aims to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and assist small farmers and producers in participating in food markets.
Food Policy Initiative projects will help students to hone a number of skills, including research and writing of legal and policy documents, reports, and training materials; statutory interpretation, as well as drafting of legislation and regulations; conducting interviews and fact-finding with clients, stakeholders, and governmental agencies; and public speaking through conducting presentations and training. Clinic clients are located around the United States, and some students will have the opportunity to travel to the southeastern states, as we work closely with partners in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina.
For updates, reports, and more information about the Food Law & Policy Clinic, visit our blog or contact Emily Broad Leib.
The Food Law and Policy Clinic works on a range of projects each semester and during the summer. Some of our representative current projects include:
Best Practices for Food Policy Councils
Food policy councils (FPCs) have been springing up around the country, bringing together various stakeholders such as farmers, food industry representatives, educators, advocates, and health professionals to analyze the food system and work to forge improved food policies. During 2011-2012, the FLPC created detailed toolkits - one for local-level FPCs and the other for state-level FPCs – that describe some of the major legal and policy issues that FPCs might want to tackle in their own region. The toolkits categorize areas of interest including local vs. state vs. federal authority over food; zoning and land use planning; school food procurement; food safety regulations and inspections; and food access. They lay out the issues and then describe some best practices from around the country. These toolkits are available online and through our clients, the Food Policy Council division of the Community Food Security Coalition and Mark Winne Associates. The FLPC will continue to update and create similar toolkits, and to host various local and state food policy trainings based on these toolkits that assist food policy councils in fostering successful policy change.
Increasing Food Efficiency/Urban Food Initiative
These days, most food products we buy are produced or packaged by a company that stamps on the food items a “sell by,” “use by,” or “best by” date. These dates are solely managed by industry with no federal or state laws setting the length of time between when a food can be produced/packaged and the date placed on the package. These dates are not necessarily linked to the time by which the food must be eaten in order to be safe; however, these dates can have a major impact, as states and municipalities regulate the sale or use of food after its code date. During the 2011-12 school year, the Clinic worked with a local food entrepreneur to analyze the laws in Massachusetts and around the nation regarding the use of food items past their code date. Our client was the former president of a major national food retailer who now wants to use his knowledge of the retail food industry to reduce food waste and bring high quality, excess food into food deserts through a new type of retail store that would utilize these food items.
Through this work, the Clinic learned a lot about the lack of sound policy surrounding expiration dates, and the ways in which the current regulatory gaps lead to increased food waste (40% of the food prepared for consumption in the U.S. is wasted). The Clinic is now creating a national policy brief that analyzes the current food code dating system and discusses the ways in which the current regime leads to increased food waste. The brief lays out policy recommendations for national and state governments around what can be done to reduce food waste and ensure that good food is utilized. This brief will be published by the Clinic in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Type 2 Diabetes Policy Recommendations (Providing Access To Healthy Solutions)
Providing Access To Healthy Solutions (PATHS) works to strengthen state-based efforts to improve type 2 diabetes treatment and prevention through working with communities to identify and recommend strategic law and policy reform initiatives. This project strives to improve health outcomes for those with type 2 diabetes and reduce the incidence of the disease by undertaking three main goals: (1) to increase access to care for people living with type 2 diabetes; (2) to improve systems for diabetes self-management, including education programs, increased access to healthy foods and improved physical activity; and (3) to reduce the incidence of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related chronic diseases. The project began in summer 2012 with work in both North Carolina and New Jersey and will expand to Mississippi in 2013. It is a cross-clinic project, working in conjunction with students and staff from the Harvard Health Law and Policy Clinic. The team combines both primary and secondary research to identify barriers to access to healthy foods and physical activity for those with type 2 diabetes. The project will analyze state statutory, regulatory and policy frameworks to understand where challenges and barriers exist; propose law and policy reform to improve access to care and to healthy foods; and collaborate with state-based stakeholders to advocate for and implement change. This project is supported by Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Together on Diabetes Initiative, and aims to support the intervention-based work that BMS has been supporting in North Carolina, New Jersey, Mississippi, and other states.
Boston Mobile Vending
Food trucks are low-barrier businesses that serve good, often healthy food wherever they find a need. They are vehicles for both entrepreneurship and increasing food access. However, food trucks’ combination of professional kitchens, high speeds and enormous popularity wherever they park can make them tricky to regulate, and the resulting regulations frequently befuddle vendors. More importantly, food trucks and other mobile vendors often fail to increase healthy food access in the poor neighborhoods that most need better options. The Food Law and Policy Clinic is taking a three-pronged approach to solving these problems. First, the Clinic is working with the Boston Office of Food Initiatives to complete an in-depth review of Boston’s food truck regulatory system. The aim of the review is to identify opportunities to streamline the regulatory system and minimize unnecessary cost on both the City of Boston and on food truck vendors. Second, the Food Law and Policy Clinic has teamed up with the Harvard Transactional Law Clinic to produce a Food Truck Legal Toolkit, a comprehensive guide to the food truck regulatory system and to the broader business law questions every new vendor must face before she sells her first meal. Third, the Clinic is analyzing healthy mobile vending programs across the country, from the NYC Green Carts program to Fruteros in Oakland, to build a national best practices report for municipalities that see mobile vending as an opportunity to eliminate food deserts. Together, we hope these efforts help make Boston a world-class mobile food city free of food deserts, and help cities across the country lay the groundwork for their own mobile food revolutions.
Farm to School – Mississippi
The Food Law and Policy Clinic is working with the Mississippi Food Policy Council and other stakeholders in Mississippi to recommend ways to foster farm to school programs in Mississippi. Farm to school programs take many different forms, but the primary goal is to connect local producers with schools so that the schools can have access to fresh, local food and can also help to support local growers. When we began our Farm to School work, there were no real farm to school programs operating in Mississippi. Now, as a result of the work of the Clinic and its partners, there are more than a dozen different school districts operating programs. The initial Clinic project was a report on barriers to expanding farm to school in Mississippi, written in spring 2011. Following that report, the Food Law and Policy Clinic, working with the Harvard Law School Mississippi Delta Project, put together a set of specific legislative recommendations that the Mississippi Food Policy Council and the Mississippi Legislative Task Force on Healthy Food Access could use for advocacy for farm to school legislation in 2012.
These legislative recommendations were adopted in their entirety by the Mississippi Legislative Task Force on Healthy Food Access, and two of the recommendations were included in bills sponsored during the 2012 legislative session.
During spring 2012, the Clinic and the Harvard Law School Mississippi Delta Project prepared a step-by-step guide for school food service directors regarding the legal and business aspects of purchasing from local growers in Mississippi and the clinic is now working on a similar guide for small farmers hoping to sell to local schools or other institutions.