By Richard Bammer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, wants to strengthen the “Buy American” provisions of the National School Lunch Act.
To that end, the congressman Wednesday introduced H.R. 6299, the “American Food for American Schools” Act.
If passed, it is designed to bring more accountability and transparency to federal laws governing school lunches, he noted in a press release.
Under current law, school districts are required to use American products for school lunches wherever practical; however, they may request a waiver from the Department of Agriculture if the cost of “domestic sourcing is significantly higher,” according to the written statement. Unfortunately, these waiver requests do not always occur, he pointed out in the written statement.
Garamendi’s legislation would legally require school food-service 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, who represents the sprawling, mostly rural 3rd Congressional district. “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.”
He noted recent recalls of imported foods that led to disease outbreaks, when that same produce could have been grown in California, where food safety standards are among the highest in the world.
The legislation has already earned support from key agricultural groups, according to Garamendi, who owns a ranch in Walnut Grove, where he lives.
“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 latest House resolution is not the first time Garamendi addressed the 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 reportedly led the school district to change its acquisition policies.