Federal bill doubles down on buying American for school meals

Also in this week’s K-12 legislative update: Maine and Massachusetts take steps to encourage school nutrition professionals to source more local foods.
Students working in a garden
School nutrition professionals would be required to purchase American-made food for school meals under a new federal bill. | Photo: Shutterstock

At the federal and state level, bills centered around purchasing U.S.-grown or locally-sourced foods for school meals were a focus for lawmakers this week. 

Here’s a look at the latest in school meal legislation. 

Federal bill looks to reinforce buying American 

Congressmen Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.) have reintroduced the American Food for American Schools Act, which would require operators to source American-made foods for the National School Lunch Program and other U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) school feeding programs.

Operators would be able to request a waiver to purchase foreign products only if domestic products are not available in"sufficient quality or quantities." If their request is granted, the operator would have to let parents and guardians know that some of the food being served at school was sourced outside the U.S.

The bill also seeks to enforce current Buy American contract requirements for school food procurement. The bill’s authors say this will help streamline the “Buy America” contracting process and provide school nutrition professionals with a safe haven if they were provided with illegal products in breach of the contract. 

In addition, the USDA would be required to publish a list of granted Buy American waivers and of foreign products purchased without a waiver. Domestic producers could then use this information to challenge the waiver or create their own product to enter the market. 

"Even in Northern Californian and Central Valley farming communities, some school districts use taxpayer dollars to buy imported foods. Some of those imported foods have been recalled due to safety concerns, when they could have been sourced locally in California," Garamendi said in a statement."That's why my American Food for American Schools Act would ensure that our schoolchildren are served nutritious, American-grown foods, produced under the strictest safety standards in the world."

A companion bill has also been introduced in the Senate. 

Massachusetts bill would set up farm-to-school reimbursement program 

More local products could be coming to schools in Massachusetts under a new bill that aims to implement a pilot program that would reimburse school nutrition programs sourcing local products. 

If passed, H.3993 would establish a three-year pilot that would reimburse participating schools $1 for every $3 spent on products grown or caught in the state, and $1 for every $5 spent with regional vendors located in New England. 

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Education. 

New law will expand farm-to-school reimbursement in Maine  

In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills has signed An Act to Allow the Local Foods Fund for Public Schools to Be Used for Processed and Value-added Maine Food Products into law. 

This law removes the minimally processed requirement from the state’s most recent farm-to-school policy, which allowed schools to be reimbursed from the state's Local Foods Fund only for local items deemed to be minimally processed. Under the new law, schools will be able to purchase more local products that are eligible for reimbursement. 



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