Newsom vetoes Hurtado’s bill to protect food supply from foreign control

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoes bill that sought to protect California farmland from being purchased and controlled by foreign entities

WASHINGTON D.C. – State Senator Melissa Hurtado expressed her disappointment after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed her bill that would have purportedly protected ag land in the valley from falling into foreign control. 

On Sept. 27, Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 1084, the Food and Farm Security Act, presented by Senator Hurtado (D-Bakersfield). Hurtado sought to prevent foreign buyers from purchasing agricultural land in the U.S. through the bill. It would also require the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to report any foreign ownership of California land or resources. 

“Protecting California’s agriculture land and food supply chain is fundamental to our survival, yet Governor Newsom’s veto jeopardizes California farm land and leaves it vulnerable to foreign control,” Hurtado said in a statement.

With drought conditions and climate change already impacting the state’s agriculture industry, food insecurity and water scarcity are only being exacerbated by the high volume of foreign land occupiers in California, stated Hurtado in a press release. The USDA reported 37.5 million acres of U.S. agricultural land is owned by foreign entities in 2020. Allowing foreign entities to control these millions of acres in farmland only takes away possible resources for Americans. 

“If foreign actors were to gain control of our land and water, the results could be devastating – we could see food shortages,” Hurtado said. “Water profiteering and even higher prices at the grocery store. It’s a risk we can’t afford.”

Food can be weaponized and used to take control of another nation, according to a statement released by Hurtado in June, especially since California is a major supplier of agricultural products. The state provides half of U.S. grown fruits, nuts and vegetables according to CalPoly. Hurtado believed the bill would have protected California’s agriculture industry during times of “global unrest or international conflict,” according to the press release.

“Food can, and is, being used as a weapon like we are seeing in Ukraine,” Hurtado said. “Recent reports discuss how a nation could gain leverage by acquiring agricultural land, and creating bioweapons that impact our food supply chain.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom chose to veto the bill because he did not want the CDFA to be responsible for compiling information on foreign land owners. The bill would require the CDFA to not only track foreign land ownership, but also the “water rights, desalination facilities, energy production, energy storage, and energy distribution in the state,” according to the veto letter Newsom released. Currently, foreign governments track their interest in U.S. land and report it to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA reports this information annually. 

“The additional data reporting required by this bill is beyond CDFA’s purview and would create new and arduous responsibilities for the department,” Newsom stated. 

Though the USDA is in charge of compiling this data, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that the reports of foreign-held agricultural land are “incomplete and riddled with errors.” This is because the only law governing these reports from foreign land holders is the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA). The law is rarely enforced, according to CSIS, with the last fine being in 2014 when foreign occupied farmland was only 26 million acres.

“The data is entirely reliant on self-reporting, and the USDA does not check it for completeness and accuracy, so there are frequent typos, omissions, and outdated information,” stated on the CSIS website. “As a result, the public does not have a complete picture of which foreign entities own how much U.S. farmland or what the land is being used for.”

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