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Bill seeks to boost domestic foods in public schools

Issue Date: April 6, 2022
By Kevin Hecteman

If it's being purchased with U.S. tax dollars for consumption in U.S. schools, it should be grown in the U.S.

This is the idea behind a bill authored by Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas. Senate Bill 1308 would require California public schools and universities to buy food grown, packed and processed in the U.S.

The bill would allow exceptions when the cost of the foreign goods is more than 25% lower than domestic products, or a commodity—such as bananas—is one not produced in abundance in the U.S.

But Taylor Roschen, a California Farm Bureau policy advocate, said California farmers still face regulatory costs that may continue to price them out of the market.

"The reality is that out-of-state—both other domestic and nondomestic—bids come in at a much lower cost than the California bid, because they don't abide by our labor and environmental standards that are so rigorous here in California," Roschen said. "Often that means, unfortunately, state agencies aren't buying U.S.- or California-grown. The irony is pretty obvious there."

Rich Hudgins, president and chief executive of the California Canning Peach Association, testified in support of the bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee on March 24. He told the senators the bill would "help ensure safe and healthy food in schools by closing a loophole in federal Buy American policies and put California in the position of creating a model for other states to follow."

"SB 1308 ensures our schoolchildren consume food of the highest quality and safety," Hudgins testified. "It also demonstrates that the state supports locally grown products, jobs and our economy, in addition to reinforcing California's commitment as a world leader on labor and environmental standards."

The bill passed out of committee and has been referred to another Senate policy committee for action.

"We've been under extreme duress from imported product coming in and displacing California growers," Hudgins said last week, naming China and Greece as major competitors. "It's largely subsidized product that's coming into this market and driving some of our growers out of the industry and reducing the number of processing facilities, and therefore the number of union jobs, in places up and down the Central Valley."

Roschen said the bill's intent is to level the playing field for domestic farmers.

"California specifically, however, still has a real challenge being competitive with other domestically produced agricultural products, simply because, once again, California farmers and ranchers are beholden to an incredibly rigorous regulatory structure that doesn't exist in some other states," Roschen said.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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