A bill advancing in the state legislature would prohibit California public schools, colleges and universities from purchasing agricultural products for student meals not grown, packed, or processed in the United States.
"This was really in response to a plant closure in the city of Modesto,” said the bill’s author, Senator Anna Caballero (D-Merced), during an Assembly Agriculture Committee hearing on Monday.
“A peach processing facility, that closed down because of direct importation of Chinese peaches, laid off 300 full-time workers and close to 700 to 800 part-time workers during the peak of the season," said Caballero.
Under Caballero’s bill, called the Buy American Food Act, a school could only buy foreign food if it was priced more than 25% lower than its domestic counterpart.
"[Buy American Food Act] policies ensure our residents, our children in particular, consume food of the highest quality and safety that is reflective of our values by supporting local farmers, jobs and our economy," said Caballero.
But opponents say the bill puts too much burden on school nutritionists and other staff.
"The language requiring the bid or price of a non-domestic agricultural product to be more than 25% lower than a domestic product, it's 5% now, is much too restrictive and will prevent virtually all non-domestic purchases,” said Lee-Angela Reed with the Association of California School Administrators.
"It will also allow producers of domestic foods to raise their prices, already much higher this year than last, simply because they can,” said Reed.
Caballero disputed that claim.
"The whole idea that you're going to end up with farmers that gouge because of this requirement is ludicrous,” said Caballero. “It's not the way the system works. And there's an anti-gouging provision [in the bill] as well."
The federal government already has a Buy American requirement for schools, but Caballero says compliance is low.
“An audit was done recently and found that, in California, many of the school districts are not following the federal guidelines that require them to justify or support the purchase of foreign products,” said Caballero.
The bill was approved unanimously by members of the Agriculture Committee on Monday. It will next be heard on the Assembly floor.
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