Gavin Newsom signs law requiring California schools to purchase American-made food

Public institutions in California will have to opt for American-made food products starting Jan. 1, 2024 under a bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Senate Bill 490 states that public institutions, including schools, need to budget for and purchase American-made foods unless they are more than 25% of the cost of imported ones.

“This Buy American policy will benefit the California agricultural industry and agricultural workers, as well as the students and teachers consuming these meals in our schools,” Newsom said in a signing statement for this bill.

While the agricultural industry supports the measure, some school districts argued their food budget will increase if they are required to comply with the Buy American Food Act.

Bill author state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat currently representing the Salinas Valley and parts of the San Joaquin Valley, previously said the state had allocated $611.8 million to help school districts cover that extra cost.

However, Troy Flint, spokesperson for the California School Boards Association, said the association fought for the $611.8 million to cover the already increasing prices schools are facing to comply with the state’s Universal Meals Program, not Caballero’s bill.

“Because California is now serving meals to all students, school districts are hiring more staff for the nutrition program and converting part-time staff to full-time and incurring significant additional costs in terms of salaries and benefits,” Flint told The Bee earlier this month.

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Newsom recognized the bill will result in additional costs for schools and public institutions.

“This bill may result in additional costs beyond the funding for universal access to subsidized school meals provided in the budget,” he said. “Any requests for additional resources to implement SB 490 will need to be reviewed and included in the annual budget process.”

Though the bill requires public institutions to select domestic products over imported ones starting in 2024, there isn’t an agency strictly enforcing the rule.

The bill doesn’t include penalties so the provisions will be enforced through an “honor system,” Caballero’s spokesperson Elisa Rivera previously told The Bee.

Workers sort through navel oranges on the line at Bee Sweet Citrus in Fowler Tuesday, November 11, 2008. The San Joaquin Valley is the center of the state’s orange crop production and Bee Sweet Citrus packs everything from oranges to pomelos.
Workers sort through navel oranges on the line at Bee Sweet Citrus in Fowler Tuesday, November 11, 2008. The San Joaquin Valley is the center of the state’s orange crop production and Bee Sweet Citrus packs everything from oranges to pomelos.

New law supports California agricultural industry

This is Caballero’s second attempt to get a bill of this kind signed into law. Her previous bill aimed to implement a similar protocol, but stalled in the legislature in June.

The Buy American Food Act should help stabilize and grow the state’s agricultural industry after the challenges it faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, industry leaders previously told The Bee.

“I really think that policies like the one introduced by Senator Anna Caballero are much needed today to protect the workers that were deemed essential,” Hernan Hernandez, executive director of the California Farmworker Foundation, previously told The Bee.

Rich Hudgins, president and CEO of the California Canning Peach Association, previously said California growers are struggling to compete with agricultural operations in other countries. By pushing state institutions to buy national food products rather than international ones, the bill will also support California growers, he added.

Newsom echoed those sentiments in his statement.

“Agricultural products grown and processed in California and the United States meet more rigorous requirements for food safety, environmental standards, and worker protections,” Newsom said.

“Signing this bill sends a message that California supports using our taxpayer dollars to purchase healthy, high-quality, and safe food products that also support reliable markets for our regional agricultural producers, processors, workers, and economies,” he added.