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Food fight in D.C. waged to protect local tuna industry

reporters@samoanews.com

Washington insiders publication ‘The Hill’ reported yesterday that the big boys in the tuna industry — StarKist and Tri Marine are lining up against Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea — in a fight over rules that keep some tuna catches out of school lunch programs.
 
Under the USDA standards, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea’s tuna cannot be served in schools because of strict Buy American standards for where tuna is cleaned, canned and shipped.
 
Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea lose under the rules because while they can in the U.S., their product is cleaned overseas.
 
“StarKist, on the other hand, has a major operation in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. Tri Marine is building up a new facility in the territory as well,” Kevin Bogardus  of The Hill wrote in yesterday’s article.
 
The fight comes down to language in the U.S. House agricultural appropriations bill that would “require the USDA to issue a report on how the department could revise its Buy American standards, including ‘the option for less than 100 percent of the value of the tuna product’ to be United States produced.”
 
The Hill hints that the language could be slipped into the omnibus spending bill that lawmakers plan to release as early as this week. If it becomes law, that report could clear the way for Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea to begin selling to schools, thus cutting into the lucrative market.
 
Quoting The Hill, “Millions of dollars in government sales are at stake, including for American Samoa, where tuna is a linchpin of the island economy.”
 
Lobbyists for both sides are making charges and counter charges and surprise, surprise — American Samoa has consolidated lobbying forces though the Stronger Economy for American Samoa Coalition, spearheaded last summer by StarKist, Tri Marine and the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce in what The Hill terms as an all out effort “to protect its golden industry.”
 
The group has worked to promote American Samoa, most notably with a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed by Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu that discussed the “economic distress” in the territory as reported in Samoa News in November 2013.
 
Mark McCullough, a coalition spokesman, told The Hill, loosening the Buy American standards would hurt American Samoa.
 
“Congress needs to be partnering with the islands’ public and private industry leaders on a new economic development plan, not costing more Americans their jobs by weakening what it means to buy America,” McCullough said in the article.
 
The Hill says Cong. Faleomavaega Eni has come up with an alternate proposal that would have USDA study whether child labor was used to process tuna bought by the government.
 
The Hill says Faleomavaega’s aides have given a PowerPoint presentation (obtained by The Hill) that cites human rights reports that blast Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea for using Thai facilities, “where workers allegedly suffer terrible conditions while cleaning tuna.”
 
“It is disgraceful to suggest that poor kids in Asia should be forced to provide tuna sandwiches for America’s school lunch program. Bumble Beeware! It is time for America to know the truth about Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea,” Faleomavaega wrote in a statement to The Hill.
 
The Hill also notes that according to Faleomavaega’s office, he has sent letters to select members of the House and Senate Agriculture panels, Appropriations agriculture subcommittees and to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in opposition to the language of the proposal.
 
Samoa News notes that absent from The Hill report is any mention of a face-to-face meeting with the congressman or any evidence that he’s back at work after being medivaced from American Samoa to Honolulu this past October and then transferred to the U.S. for what was termed by his office as ‘rehab’.
 
Samoa News continues to make requests for an update on the congressman’s health with the latest request made today.
 
More on this story with comments from local sources in upcoming issues.



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