Buy American Food Act aims to support California agriculture

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Ed Andrieski

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A bill on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk could force California public institutions — including schools — to buy food produced in the United States, as long as it doesn’t cost 25% more than imported produce.

Senate Bill 490, the Shop US Food Actaims to support domestic food production by creating competition among American businesses and providing local meals to students, according to the bill’s author, Senator Anna Caballero.

Caballero said the measure prioritizes domestic products over cheaper imported products. The legislation is necessary, she said, because California has some of the most stringent food safety and climate standards requirements, and state wage and benefits regulations increase the costs of workforce.

“I think if you’re buying American, you’re going to be buying almost exclusively from California across all (product) categories,” Caballero, a Democrat who represents the Salinas Valley and parts of the San Joaquin Valley, said during the interview. ‘a press conference. Wednesday morning at Sun-Maid Growers of California headquarters.

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California State Senator Anna Caballero speaks during a press conference in support of the Buy American Food Act on September 14, 2022 at the Sun-Maid Growers of California headquarters in Fresno. She is the lead author of the legislation (SB 490) and was part of the joint effort with farmers and farmworkers where they called on Governor Gavin Newsom to sign the bill into law. LAURA S.DIAZ [email protected]

If signed, the bill’s provisions would be enforced through an “honor system”, according to Caballero spokeswoman Elisa Rivera.

This is Caballero’s second attempt to have such a bill signed into California law. His previous bill sought to implement a similar protocol. He stalled in the legislature in June.

Previous and current measures have strong support from California farm organizations. Both bills are opposed by educational organizations, who say the Buy American Food Act would drive up their food prices.

“There are better ways to subsidize our agriculture industry than self-imposed price hikes in California schools,” said Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association. “This bill is actually a transfer of funds from public education to the agricultural industry.”


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Some California farm groups support the bill

Some agriculture industry organizations support the bill, saying it could help stabilize and grow California’s agriculture industry after the challenges it faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I truly believe that policies like the one introduced by Senator Anna Caballero are needed today to protect workers deemed essential,” said Hernan Hernandez, executive director of the California Farmworker Foundation.

By pushing state institutions to buy domestic rather than imported food, the bill would support California producers who are struggling to compete with farms in other countries, said Rich Hudgins, president and CEO of the direction of the California Canning Peach Association.

“One of the biggest threats facing California peach growers today is the increasing volume of canned peaches of foreign origin entering the United States, primarily from China and Greece,” Hudgins said. .

“What’s devastating to farmers is that some of these foreign peaches were purchased with taxpayers’ money and are being served to our students through school feeding programs in California,” he said. he adds.

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A press conference attendee takes a photo of Teamsters 431 members standing next to Ashley Alvarado, President of Teamsters Local 856, in support of the Buy American Food Act on September 14, 2022 at Sun-Maid headquarters Growers of California in Fresno. LAURA S.DIAZ [email protected]

School association says bill would increase food costs

But the California School Boards Associationwho represents elected officials who govern public school districts and county education offices, says the legislation would strain school district lunch budgets and jeopardize state efforts to provide universal school lunches to schoolchildren .

The association said the Buy American Food Act would increase the cost of purchasing school lunches by up to 25%. He said the Buy American Food Act would cost districts an additional $474 million or $85 per student, based on calculations by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.

Caballero acknowledged that the Buy American Food Act will indeed cost school districts more. She said the state has allocated $611.8 million to help school districts with this additional cost.

“This higher reimbursement rate will allow local educational organizations to continue to offer better quality and diversified meals to our students and to ensure the Universal Meal Program continues uninterrupted,” Caballero said.

However, Flint with the CSBA said the association fought for the $611.8 million to cover the already escalating prices schools face to comply with the Universal Meals program, not Caballero’s bill. .

“Because California is now serving meals to all students, school districts are hiring more nutrition program staff and converting part-time staff to full-time, resulting in significant additional costs in terms of salaries and expenses. benefits,” Flint said.

“That’s what the $611.8 million is intended to pay for, so it’s misleading to suggest that this money was intended to pay for a law that arbitrarily suggests schools raise the prices of goods,” a- he added.

Newsom has until the end of the month to sign or veto the legislation.

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