Elk Grove Citizen

Governor approves lunch law influenced by EGUSD case

October 25, 2017

Senate Bill (SB) 730, which requires the California Department of Education (CDE) to monitor compliance of the Buy American provision of the National School Lunch Program, was signed into law on Oct. 7 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who is a pediatrician, said that he authored the bill to stop schools from sourcing food from outside the United States.

“The purpose of authoring this bill was really to prioritize purchasing food (for) our schools (within) the United States of America,” he said. “People work hard in California to set high standards for our food and for the workers who work (in) the fields.

“We, here in California, have one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. And our public dollars go to our schools, but more importantly, these are our kids who are eating that food. They deserve to get the food that is grown here that meets the safety and labor standards that we established here in the United States, and also in the state of California.”

Bill Bird, executive director of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau (SCFB), said that he appreciated that Pan and the governor saw wisdom behind protecting and promoting local agriculture through SB 730.

“Sacramento County farmers and ranchers produce high-quality, healthful food products and it’s the Farm Bureau’s belief that Sacramento children should have access to these high-quality foods through school lunch purchases,” he said. “Our pears, for example, are more than just a piece of fruit. These are Delta-grown pears, which makes them the best pears to be found anywhere in the world.”

Congress added a provision to federal law in 1998 that requires schools to purchase domestically produced food products for school lunches. However, limited enforcement of that provision led to schools purchasing imported food products to serve to their students.

Despite the existence of readily available Delta-grown pears and peaches, in the recent past, the Elk Grove Unified School District and the Sacramento City Unified School District purchased processed pears and peaches from China.

And Bird noted that Sacramento County is the largest pear-producing county in California.

Pan said that the situation with school districts purchasing canned fruit from overseas was one of the incidents that led to his authoring of SB 730.

“Certainly we are cognizant that schools are trying to keep their costs down, and that’s recognized in the bill, as well,” he said. “But I think the priority should be if you can get it at a competitive price that you should preferably by American.”

Pan described a benefit of spending more money on locally grown produce.

“We set high standards here in the United States and California for our food to make sure it’s safe, that it’s of high quality, nutritious and that it’s grown in a way that meets our values,” he said. “Sometimes that does make it a little more expensive to produce food here, but that also means our food is of the standards that we desire.”

Xanthi Pinkerton, a spokesperson for the Elk Grove Unified School District, responded to the governor’s signing of SB 730.

“Elk Grove Unified’s approach to the Buy American provision, as well as our focus on (the National) Farm to School (Network) will continue,” she said. “Our students enjoy a variety of fresh, high-quality, locally-grown fruits and vegetables options daily. We have been in compliance with local and federal food and nutrition regulations and we will continue to comply with the law.”

Pan added that school officials understand the importance of purchasing quality, nutritious food for schools.

“They understood why we were doing the bill and they appreciate that all the different parties worked with our office so that we could work together to do something good for our kids,” he said.