Washington, D.C. (April 16, 2018)—The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives today applauded the introduction of legislation in the Senate that would strengthen monitoring and enforcement of “Buy American” provisions of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The bill, S. 2641, was introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and is a companion bill to legislation introduced in the House, H.R. 1241.
“On behalf of America’s farmer co-ops, I would like to thank Senators Sullivan and Cantwell for their leadership in introducing this bill,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. “While USDA has distributed multiple guidance memos to schools across the country on how to comply with the Buy American provisions of school nutrition programs, the last several years has seen an alarming increase in the amount of foreign-produced food served in schools when comparable American-grown products are readily available and competitively priced.”
Beginning in the late 1980s, provisions were added to the school lunch and breakfast programs that require schools to purchase domestic commodities and food products; the provision has become known as “Buy American.” Only two exceptions to these requirements were provided by USDA in the regulations: for when a product is not produced in the United States in sufficient quantity or quality (such as bananas) or for when competitive bids reveal that U.S. products cost significantly more than foreign ones. Numerous recent media reports have found troubling disregard for the Buy American provisions.
In particular, Conner noted that examinations of relevant data by several industry groups have found that 50 to 60 percent of fish served in U.S. schools is caught on Russian ships and processed in China; that 81 percent of apple juice served in schools in 2014 was imported; and that Chinese canned peaches are served to students in 26 states, including major domestic producers like California and Georgia.
“NCFC believes that the legislation introduced today will help to shed light on the extent of this problem and help ensure that taxpayer money is used in the way the Congress intended,” concluded Conner. “We hope that the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will take up this legislation soon and advance it to the Senate floor for action.”
Since 1929, NCFC has been the voice of America’s farmer cooperatives. Our members are regional and national farmer cooperatives, which are in turn composed of over 2,000 local farmer cooperatives across the country. NCFC members also include 26 state and regional councils of cooperatives. Farmer cooperatives allow individual farmers the ability to own and lead organizations that are essential for continued competitiveness in both the domestic and international markets.
America’s farmer-owned cooperatives provide a comprehensive array of services for their members. These diverse organizations handle, process and market virtually every type of agricultural commodity. They also provide farmers with access to infrastructure necessary to manufacture, distribute and sell a variety of farm inputs. Additionally, they provide credit and related financial services, including export financing.