Should schools be able to buy food for school lunches from anywhere in the world, even if it’s cheaper that way? Or should a waiver be required to purchase from any foreign country?
A Sacramento Bee investigation and public records request revealed California school districts importing foods such as canned peaches from China for their school lunches, despite having not just one but four canned peach processing centers nearby. The Chinese alternatives were less expensive.
The National School Lunch Program, created in 1946, feeds about 30.4 million children. It was amended in 1998 to include a “Buy America” provision encouraging schools to purchase American foods and products for students “to the maximum extent practicable.”
However, these are only guidelines without the force of law.
What the bill does
The American Food for American Schools Act would strengthen the existing “Buy America” provision to the existing National School Lunch Program.
First, it would establish a waiver process for schools to purchase foreign food items, requiring permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Then the waiver would have to be publicly posted online, and emailed to parents or guardians of the students attending the school.
Only two conditions could suffice for a waiver to buy foreign foods. One is if the items are not sufficiently produced or reasonably available from American producers. The other is if the costs of the American product is “significantly” more expensive than its foreign alternative.
It was introduced on February 7 as bill number H.R. 1066 by Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA3).
What supporters and opponents say
Supporters argue the bill would do a better job of helping American farming and agricultural interests, ensuring that imported foods aren’t used except as a last resort.
“Even in Northern Californian and Central Valley farming communities, some school districts use taxpayer dollars to buy imported foods,” Rep. Garamendi said in a press release. “Some of those imported foods have been recalled due to safety concerns, when they could have been sourced locally in California.”
“That’s why my [bill] would ensure that our schoolchildren are served nutritious, American-grown foods, produced under the strictest safety standards in the world.”
Other are concerned that the bill could raise prices for local school districts. For example, the Chinese canned peaches cost $25.38 per case, while the domestic equivalent cost $33.01 per case: a +30% surcharge.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 19 House cosponsors: 13 Democrats and six Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.
A previous version introduced in 2017 attracted a slightly larger 21 House cosponsors: 12 Democrats and nine Republicans. It never received a vote, nor did a companion Senate version. No Senate version has yet been introduced in the current Congress.