By Gabriel Pietrorazio

The Prince George’s County Council has been reviewing and acting on several food-related pieces of legislation before the Nov. 30 end of their final session in 2020.  


Councilmember Danielle Glaros (District 3) has been on the front lines, pushing for a task force dedicated to addressing food access issues at the county level. 


“The pandemic has pushed us to get food out immediately. Thousands and thousands of people are food insecure in our communities, but food insecurity was there before the pandemic, and it’s going to be there after,” Glaros told the College Park Here & Now. 


Glaros and Council Chair Todd Turner (District 4) introduced CR-062, a resolution to establish the Food Security Task Force. The bill was approved in July, and the task force met for the first time in late September.


Glaros expects the resolution to advance conversations about food access in College Park and throughout the county, as well.


“It was a really exciting meeting of the task force last week [Sept. 27-Oct. 2]. It’s a great group, really diverse perspectives coming together for the first time to really holistically and collaboratively talk about how we can, for the longer term and the short term, address food security,” she said. 


According to the resolution, the task force was formed “to address issues related to the demand and supply of healthy food and areas with limited access to healthy food, food-health connections, school meals, and food security in Prince George’s County.”


Glaros is keenly focused on providing healthy food options for residents, and especially children. She is one of eight co-sponsors of CB-071, the Prince George’s County Healthy Kids’ Meal bill. Councilmember Tom Dernoga (District 1) also co-sponsored the bill. 


Even though her two children are grown, Glaros still remembers ordering her fair share of kids’ meals. 


“I’ve bought a lot of kids meals over the years, and the reality is [that] we look at our health data here for Prince George’s County all the time, and we know that there’s a direct connection between what we eat, what we consume … A lot of it boils down to healthy access to food, whether that’s fresh produce, or whether that’s the meals that are being served,” Glaros said. 


The legislation was crafted in partnership with the American Heart Association of Greater Washington, Sugar Free Kids of Maryland, the Center for Science and the Public Interest, and Prince George’s County Food Equity Council. It aims at lowering children’s sugar consumption, a goal that Glaros wholeheartedly supports. 


On Oct. 15, two amendments were adopted as a part of the bill’s second draft. According to Leroy Maddox, the county’s legislative officer, the second draft details the tiered approach that will be used to implement the county mandates. 


Milk, water, and 100% juice must be offered with children’s meals as default options at all restaurants within the first two years following the bill’s approval, a healthy side within two to three years, and at least one children’s meal option within three to four years. Enforcement of the law would begin five years after the bill is enacted.


Maddox also confirmed that language about enforcement of the bill’s provisions has been deleted. “What you will see is all the references to fines and things with respect to chronic offenders have been removed,” Maddox disclosed. Fines are still permitted through the county’s health department, according to Turner.


Even with significant revisions, the bill still faced backlash from major players in the food retail industry, including McDonald’s and the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM).


Melvin Thompson, RAM’s senior vice president of government affairs and public policy, pushed the Prince George’s County Council to strike mandates designed to provide healthy meals to children, in particular.


“If the council decides to act on this legislation, we would request striking all language in the bill regarding the default healthy side and healthy children’s meal because most restaurants do not have the nutrition analysis resources or expertise to easily comply,” Thompson testified. 


In contrast, Ellen Valentino, the executive vice president for the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Beverage Association, sided with councilmembers, saying that the bill is important, though she suggested minor modifications. 


“We are absolutely aligned with the goals. You see that by the changes we have made to our industry as a whole. We have actually supported similar legislation … and at this point in time, I think we’re prepared to support this [bill] with a couple of changes specifically to the default beverage definition,” she noted. 


Valentino also urged the county to “consider looking at another low-cal option,” one that’s 25 calories or less in a single eight-ounce beverage. 


Despite considerable opposition, the bill garnered near-unanimous support and was voted out of the committee in a 11-0-1 decision. 


A public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 17. Residents can register to speak through eComment on the county council’s webpage calendar ( Registration ends at 3 p.m. on Nov. 16.