Like an “oldie but goodie” in the “Back to the Future” movies, the “Buy American” provision in the National School Lunch Act is again being squeezed for political benefits.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-CA, wants to amend current law to require schools to obtain “waivers” before purchasing imported foods for lunch programs.

school-lunch-cc-photo-by-laura-taylorHis waiver bill was introduced Nov. 16 in reaction to the Hepatitis A outbreak traced to consumption of frozen strawberries from Egypt, sickening 134. The contaminated strawberries were served in both schools and restaurants.

School food authorities (SFAs) participating in the National School Lunch Program are required to purchase domestically grown and processed foods “to the maximum extent possible.”

The current “Buy American” language has been in the law for almost 20 years, but its origin goes back to 1933. At least 51 percent of any domestic commodity or product must be grown domestically.

The only exemptions are if a product is not available in the U.S. in “sufficient and reasonable available quantities” or if through competitive bidding, U.S. products cost significantly more than those from foreign sources.

Rep. Garamendi wants to require SFAs to obtain waivers from USDA before making any foreign purchases. His “American Food for American Schools Act” would make waivers mandatory and require they be made available for public review.

He wants the waiver requirement to act as an enforcement mechanism. He says the bill is intended to make sure U.S. tax money goes to support U.S. businesses and jobs.

The California Canning Peach Association has endorsed the bill. It claims schools in as many as 20 states have been buying canned peaches from China and 40 school districts were known to have purchased the bad Egyptian strawberries.

Garamend first became involved in the issue a year ago when he learned his local Sacramento City United School District was serving canned peaches from China in school lunches.

It is not clear if either the peaches or strawberries were purchased through competitive bidding procedures as currently permitted.

His bill is unlikely to get any attention during the lame-duck session, but is expected to be introduced into the new Congress in January.


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