Schools' fruit from China violates 'Buy American' provision, groups say

Schools' fruit from China violates 'Buy American' provision, groups say

Farm and ag groups ask USDA to strengthen provision that asks school lunch program participants to source ingredients from American producers

The Sacramento, Calif., school district has been criticized recently for its purchase of applesauce, peaches and pears from China to be served as part of its school lunch program – and its list of critics is getting longer.

Related: Study documents school lunch fruit, vegetable plate waste

On Tuesday, about 50 ag groups including cooperatives, trade organizations and agribusinesses said the USDA should tighten its enforcement of a provision that asks participants in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program to buy American products for inclusion in its meals. The programs are taxpayer-funded.

Jilver Castillo, Arlington Food Services, serve lunch for Washington-Lee High School students in Arlington, Va., on Oct. 19, 2011. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

"Our organizations are deeply concerned that the Buy America Act requirements of the National School Lunch Act are not being adequately monitored and enforced," the groups wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The Sacramento Bee first publicized the school's buying record, creating concern and confusion among some of the state's lawmakers.

"My district is the center of the peach country. When I found out about it, I was angry," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., told the Bee. "I jumped all over it. I said, 'How can this be? How can the Sacramento school district do such a thing?'"

According to the report, the USDA already has taken note, telling the paper it would work with the district “to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used to purchase American products."

But the coalition of farm groups wants more from USDA – including improved enforcement of the "Buy American" provision.

"Since there is currently no transparency regarding school purchases of imported products, we must assume there are other districts throughout the country purchasing imported food products," the groups' letter said.

The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives suggested USDA could more closely monitor procurement specifications and contractor performance as one avenue for better enforcement.

Read the full story, "Sacramento City Unified faces criticism for buying Chinese canned fruit," on the Sacramento Bee website.

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