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Letter to USDA Urging Action on “Buy American”

Letters
March 22, 2022 The Honorable Tom Vilsack Secretary 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. Sincerely, Agricultural Council of California American AgCredit American Farm Bureau Federation Apricot Producers of California Burnette Foods 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 Food Northwest Indian Summer MBG Marketing 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 Peterson Farms Riveridge Cider Co. LLC Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. Seneca Foods Summer Prize Frozen Foods Sun-Maid Growers of California Sunsweet Growers Titan Farms/Chalmers Carr Tree Top, Inc. U.S. Apple Association US Sweet Potato Council Washington State Fruit Commission Wawona Frozen Foods
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