THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL LUNCH
It’s hardly something you think about on a daily basis. Your child goes to school, around noon or so receives the provided lunch from the school cafeteria, and so it goes day after day. We focus on the health of the food they’re consuming, as we should, but do we perhaps forget where that food is sourced from?
The agricultural world notices. It is why over 50 trade associations, farmer co-ops, and agribusinesses have urged Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to buy American when it comes to school lunches. A recently-released investigative report showed that several U.S. school districts may be spending tax dollars on imported Chinese canned fruit. The assumption, just like with many decisions schools face nowadays, is that this is a cost-cutting measure. The issue was brought to public attention when it was discovered that the Sacramento, CA school district was purchasing pears, applesauce, and peaches from China. These U.S. tax dollars schools receive should ideally go to U.S. companies. It is why participants in the National School Lunch and National School Breakfast programs are expected to operate under a “Buy American” provision.
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives has asked that Secretary Vilsack tighten the reins and be more vigilant in enforcing the Buy American Act. From the full letter to Vilsack:
“Under Section 104(d) of the William F. Goodling Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 1998, schools and institutions that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) are required to purchase domestically grown and processed foods to the maximum extent practicable. To be considered a domestic product the food must be produced and processed in the U.S. with over 51 percent of the final processed product consisting of domestic agricultural commodities. This provision applies to all funds in the food service account and is not limited to federal reimbursements. Our organizations are deeply concerned that the Buy America Act requirements of the National School Lunch Act are not being adequately monitored and enforced. Our concerns were amplified with the Sacramento City Unified School District’s recent acknowledgement that they have been purchasing canned peaches, pears and applesauce from China. Since there is currently no transparency regarding school purchases of imported products, we must assume there are other districts throughout the country purchasing imported food products. Given the importance of the Buy American provision, we would like to see the enforcement of this requirement become a priority for USDA. We encourage USDA to consider monitoring the procurement specifications and contractor performance. This increased accountability and enforcement will enhance compliance with the Buy American provision and ensure scenarios like the recent one in the Sacramento City Unified School District do not continue to occur.”
The organizations involved in this request include such massive entities as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Western Growers Association. They, on behalf of farmers and ranchers all over the country, are advocating for domestically-grown foods to be used in schools.
The Buy American provision was added to the William F. Goodling Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 1998 in order to ensure this happens. The only exceptions to this rule are when
1) the product is not produced or manufactured in the U.S. in sufficient and reasonable available quantities of a satisfactory quality; and
2) competitive bids reveal the costs of a U.S. product is significantly higher than the foreign product. Assuming neither of those two exceptions is the case in the current landscape (at least not in a significant manner), one would assume we should be doing everything we can to make sure our children receive foods grown and raised on American farms and ranches.