The American Food Purchase Act aims to support California agriculture

Ed Andresky

News agency

A bill on Governor Gavin Newsom’s office would require California public institutions — including schools — to purchase food produced in the United States, as long as it doesn’t cost 25% more than imported products.

Senate Bill 490, the American Food Purchase Act, aims to support local food production by creating competition among US businesses and offering locally grown meals to students, according to the bill’s author, state Senator Anna Caballero.

Caballero said the measure prioritizes local products over cheaper imported ones. The legislation is needed, she said, because California has among the strictest requirements for food safety and climate standards, and the state’s pay and benefits regulations drive up labor costs.

“I think if you buy an American product, you’re going to buy from California almost exclusively in all[products],” Caballero, a Democrat who represents the Salinas Valley and parts of the San Joaquin Valley, said Wednesday morning at the Sun Maid Stocks of California headquarters. .

California Senator Anna Caballero speaks during a press conference in support of the American Food Purchase Act on September 14, 2022 at the Sun-Maid Growers California headquarters in Fresno. She is the principal writer of the law (SB 490) and was part of a joint effort with farmers and farm workers where they called on Governor Gavin Newsom to sign the law. Laura S Diaz [email protected]

If signed, the provisions of the law will be enforced through an “honour system,” according to Elisa Rivera, a spokeswoman for Caballero.

This is Caballero’s second attempt to get a bill of this type signed into California law. Her previous bill was intended to implement a similar protocol. I faltered in the legislature in June.

Past and current actions have strong support from California agricultural organizations. Both projects were opposed by educational organizations, arguing that the American Food Purchase Act would raise food prices.

“There are better ways to support our agricultural industry besides the higher prices we have imposed on California schools,” said Troy Flint, a spokesman for the California School Board Association. “This bill is actually a transfer of money from public education to the farming industry.”

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Some California farming groups support the bill

Some agricultural industry organizations are supporting the law, saying it could help stabilize and grow California’s agricultural industry after the challenges it faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really believe that policies like the one that Senator Ana Caballero introduced today to protect workers who have been deemed essential,” said Hernan Hernandez, executive director of the California Farmworker Foundation.

By pushing state institutions to buy local food products instead of imported ones, the bill would support California farmers struggling to compete with agricultural operations in other countries, said Rich Hodgins, president and CEO of the California Canning Peach Association.

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

“What is devastating to the farmers is that some of these foreign peaches have been purchased with taxpayer money and are being given to our students in California school feeding programs,” he added.

A press conference attendee poses for a photo of Teamsters 431 union members posing next to Ashley Alvarado, president of Local Teamsters 856, in support of the American Food Purchase Act on September 14, 2022 at the Sun-Maid Growers California headquarters in Fresno. Laura S Diaz [email protected]

School association says bill will increase food costs

But the California School Board Association, which represents the elected officials who govern public school districts and school district offices, says the legislation would strain meal budgets in school districts and jeopardize the state’s efforts to provide universal school meals to schoolchildren.

The association said the American Food Purchase Act would increase the cost of purchasing school meals by up to 25%. He said the American Food Purchase Act would cost counties an additional $474 million, or $85 per student, according to calculations by the California Educational Services Association of County Supervisors.

Caballero acknowledged that the U.S. Food Purchase Act would already cost school districts more. She said the state has allocated $611.8 million to help school districts cover this extra cost.

“This high rate of reimbursement will enable local educational agencies to continue to provide better quality and varied meals to our students and ensure the WFP continues uninterrupted,” Caballero said.

However, CSBA’s Flint said the association struggled for $611.8 million to cover the already increased prices schools are facing to comply with the Universal Meals program, not the Caballero bill.

“Because California now provides meals for all students, school districts are hiring more staff for the feeding program, turning part-time staff into full-time staff and incurring significant additional costs in terms of salaries and benefits,” Flint said.

“That’s what $611.8 million was set aside to pay for, so it’s disingenuous to suggest that this money was meant to pay for a law that arbitrarily suggests schools to higher prices for goods,” he added.

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

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