Washington, D.C.—The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives applauded the introduction of legislation in the Senate that would strengthen monitoring and enforcement of “Buy American” provisions of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The bill, S. 2641, was introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and is a companion bill to legislation introduced in the House, H.R. 1241.
“On behalf of America’s farmer co-ops, I would like to thank Senators Sullivan and Cantwell for their leadership in introducing this bill,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. “While USDA has distributed multiple guidance memos to schools across the country on how to comply with the Buy American provisions of school nutrition programs, the last several years has seen an alarming increase in the amount of foreign-produced food served in schools when comparable American-grown products are readily available and competitively priced.”
Beginning in the late 1980s, provisions were added to the school lunch and breakfast programs that require schools to purchase domestic commodities and food products; the provision has become known as “Buy American.” Only two exceptions to these requirements were provided by USDA in the regulations: for when a product is not produced in the United States in sufficient quantity or quality (such as bananas) or for when competitive bids reveal that U.S. products cost significantly more than foreign ones. Numerous recent media reports have found troubling disregard for the Buy American provisions.
In particular, Conner noted that examinations of relevant data by several industry groups have found that 50 to 60 percent of fish served in U.S. schools is caught on Russian ships and processed in China; that 81 percent of apple juice served in schools in 2014 was imported; and that Chinese canned peaches are served to students in 26 states, including major domestic producers like California and Georgia.
“NCFC believes that the legislation introduced today will help to shed light on the extent of this problem and help ensure that taxpayer money is used in the way the Congress intended,” concluded Conner. “We hope that the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will take up this legislation soon and advance it to the Senate floor for action.”
NCFC is a national association representing America’s farmer cooperatives. There are over 2,500 farmer cooperatives across the U.S. whose members include a majority of our nation’s more than 2 million farmers, ranchers and growers. These farmer cooperative businesses handle, process, and market agricultural commodities and related products; furnish farm supplies; and provide credit and associated financial servicesFarmer cooperatives also provide jobs for nearly 250,000 Americans, many in rural areas, with a combined payroll of over $8 billion.