November 18, 2016
Washington, D.C. - This week, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, Davis, Yuba City) introduced H.R. 6299, the “American Food for American Schools” Act. The bill is designed to bring more accountability and transparency to the “Buy American” provisions of the National School Lunch Act. Under current law, school districts are required to use domestically sourced products for school lunches wherever practical, but may request a waiver from the Department of Agriculture if the cost of domestic sourcing is significantly higher. Unfortunately, these waiver requests do not always occur. Garamendi’s legislation would legally require school nutrition providers to seek a waiver in order to use foreign commodities and products. Additionally, waiver requests must be made available to the public.
“One of the best ways to make sure our kids have local produce is to enforce the existing Buy American provisions of the National School Lunch Act,” said Garamendi. “These provisions are designed to ensure taxpayer dollars support U.S. jobs and businesses, and have the added benefit of increasing the amount of American-grown food our children enjoy through the school lunch program. We have seen too many instances of school districts, including some right here in my district, importing foreign food unnecessarily without the proper disclosure. Recently, we’ve even seen recalls of imported foods owing to disease outbreaks, when that same produce could have been sourced locally right here in California, subject to the highest food safety standards in the world. That’s why I’ve written legislation that will increase transparency and strengthen enforcement of these important standards.”
The legislation has already earned support from key agricultural groups. "When local school districts use taxpayer dollars to purchase and import food products that are readily available here, it is a real slap in the face to American farmers who are required to comply with a host of laws and regulations to ensure they are producing the safest supply of food in the world,” said Rich Hudgins, president and CEO of the California Canning Peach Association. He added, “Yet China is notorious for environmental, human rights and food safety violations so why are we using taxpayer dollars to buy their food products and risk the health and safety of our children?”
Rob Larew, Senior Vice-President of Public Policy and Communications for the National Farmers Union, said: “The school lunch laws were designed to ensure all school-age children have access to high quality, nutritious food products, like those grown and produced by U.S. farmers and ranchers. By improving transparency and enforcement of the Buy American provisions, through the American Food for American Schools Act, we can better support both American agriculture and child nutrition.”
This is not the first time Congressman Garamendi has led on this issue. In 2015, it was reported that the Sacramento City Unified School District had been importing canned peaches from China. While these purchases do not appear to have violated the “Buy American” provision because of cost differences, it did expose a lack of enforcement of the provisions requiring school districts to seek a waiver with the USDA under these circumstances. Garamendi’s involvement led the school district to change its acquisition policies.