NC House lawmakers propose more study of food deserts

A state House committee studying access to healthful foods in areas with limited access to grocery stores has proposed to study the issue some more.

After testimony at three hearings, the House Committee on Food Desert Zones met Monday to issue findings and recommendations. The most substantive recommendation was a proposal to create a joint committee, involving state senators this time, to study the issue further.

“Studying it more is where we are at this point,” said Rep. Yvonne Holley, a Southeast Raleigh Democrat who brought the issue of food deserts to lawmakers’ attention after Kroger closed two locations in her community last year. “We have to do more education with legislators.”

A food desert is where residents in an urban area live more than a mile from a grocery store – more than 10 miles in a rural area.

One of the committee co-chairs, Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Caldwell County Republican, said there is a limit to what lawmakers can do to help because they cannot force grocery stores to open in food deserts. “We have identified a problem; so much of these problems have to be addressed by the private sector,” Starnes said. “We want to make sure we don’t have any barriers to putting a supermarket in an area.”

The committee also agreed to write letters to the state board of education to encourage school districts to increase participation in the school breakfast program, to state agriculture officials to expand participation in the farm-to-school program and to federal agriculture officials about concerns related to the proposed food safety modernization act. The committee also plans to introduce a bill authorizing state health officials to enter a contract with state cooperative extension officials to oversee food stamp education efforts.