March 22, 2022
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
Today we are writing to strongly encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to move forward in a timely manner consistent with President Biden’s directive under his January 25, 2021, executive order (EO) to support manufacturers, businesses, and workers by ensuring that federal purchasing programs follow “Buy American” requirements. The undersigned organizations have long supported enforcing and strengthening the “Buy American” provisions in programs administered by USDA such as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.
America’s farmers, ranchers, seafood producers and co-ops serve as the backbone of our economy, and it is imperative that federal policies continue to promote an economically healthy and competitive U.S. agriculture sector. The United States produces the safest and highest quality food in the world under the most stringent laws and regulations. Not only do our children deserve the best food, but also American taxpayers deserve to know that their funds are used to support U.S. jobs and businesses.
While we were encouraged to see the Department’s August 4, 2021, Request for Information (RFI): Buy American in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, we do hope the Department will expeditiously be moving forward with concrete actions to ensure American grown food is served in our schools. Sourcing non-U.S. foods, even when competitively priced domestic alternatives are available, not only runs counter to the law, but destroys jobs across the value chain, especially in the fruit and vegetable processing industry, which employs over 1.5 million Americans
As outlined in our comments to the August RFI, we strongly believe that the guidance related to Buy American needs to be strengthened and a uniform waiver procedure developed for food products not produced or manufactured in the U.S. in sufficient quantity and quality to meet school demands. Our school food authorities need clearer, simpler, and definitive guidance. Schools must recognize that adherence to the Buy American requirements is expected and will be enforced. A uniform waiver procedure for food products not produced domestically (i.e., bananas, pineapple, spices, etc.) or not available in sufficient quantity would reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens and paperwork for school food authorities. Food distributors also need to be more aware of the Buy American requirements. Repeated violations, such as substituting foreign sourced food products after indicating compliance with the Buy American requirements, could be grounds for barring the distributor as a supplier in the school feeding programs.
Additionally, as USDA looks to revitalize our supply chains, emphasis should be placed on increasing the number of suppliers willing to serve low population areas of our country. School Food Authorities need options and should not be forced to buy foreign products because their sole supplier does not stock a sufficient supply of domestically produced items. At the end of the day, as long as the “significant cost differential” exemption remains, we essentially have no Buy American requirement for school meals.
In light of the recent invasion of Ukraine and subsequent market disruptions, it is a reminder now more than ever of the importance maintaining the domestic production of products critical to our national and economic security. Food is one of the six critical supply chain sectors that have been targeted by the Biden Administration to strengthen and prevent further disruptions. It should be self-evident that a strong food supply is critical to our national and economic security, so the robust enforcement of Buy American requirements with school food programs financed with federal dollars is directly in line with the President’s goals.
Thank you for your continued leadership and advocacy within the Biden Administration on behalf of farmers and ranchers and we look forward to working with you to further support America’s agricultural producers.
Agricultural Council of California
American Farm Bureau Federation
Apricot Producers of California
California Canning Peach Association
California Cherry Growers & Industry Association
California Date Commission
California Farm Bureau Federation
California Grain and Feed Association
California League of Food Producers
California Pear Growers Association
California Seed Association
California Tomato Growers Association
Can Manufacturers Institute
Cherry Central Co-op
Cherry Marketing Institute
Del Monte Foods
Florida Farm Bureau Federation
Michigan Apple Association
Michigan Farm Bureau
Michigan Freeze Pack
Michigan Processing Apple Growers
Michigan Processing Asparagus Growers
Michigan State Horticultural Society
Michigan Vegetable Council
Midwest Food Products Association
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
National Peach Council
New York Farm Bureau
Northwest Horticultural Council
NW Cherry Growers
Pacific Coast Producers
Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service
Packers Canning Company dba Honee Bear Canning
Riveridge Cider Co. LLC
Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc.
Summer Prize Frozen Foods
Sun-Maid Growers of California
Titan Farms/Chalmers Carr
Tree Top, Inc.
U.S. Apple Association
US Sweet Potato Council
Washington State Fruit Commission
Wawona Frozen Foods