Bill Intended to Increase Produce Sales in New York City Neighborhoods

March 18, 2008

In 2006, the City banned trans fats. See “Industry Challenges Municipal Calorie Count Regulation” (6/26/07). Recently, New York City approved Int. No. 665-A, a bill to permit an increase in the number of fruit and vegetable sidewalk carts allowed to operate in neighborhoods with few supermarkets, low rates of consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and high rates of obesity, diabetes and other health problems. Neighborhoods where on survey more than 15% of residents said they had not eaten fruits or vegetables in the previous 24 hours made the list, even where there were plenty of stores offering fresh produce. The measure was coupled with a reduction city-wide in the number of sidewalk vendors who could be licensed and a slight cut in the number of neighborhoods in which they were permitted to operate. The rationale for this enactment was a 2006 survey finding that only 20-40% of bodegas (small grocery stores) carried apples, oranges and bananas. Only 2-6% sold leafy green vegetables. The new measure is intended to make it easier for citizens served by such stores to purchase fresh produce.

According to the New York Times, the Council voted 39-9 in favor of the measure despite opposition from independent supermarkets, bodegas, and green grocers. Korean-American vendors were particularly unhappy with the proposal because, since the 1970s, they have been selling fruits and vegetables in low income and high crime areas where other businesses were reluctant to go.

This new ordinance might make fresh produce easier to obtain in certain neighborhoods. Whether on balance it is a prudent decision, and whether in particular it will have any effect upon the dietary practices of New Yorkers, remain to be seen.

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