USDA urged to not weaken 100% Buy American tuna provision
Responding to Samoa News questions sent directly to his email and cc'd to staff, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni is calling for the territory to band together with him and other members of Congress to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to weaken the current 100% Buy American provision, which is part of the USDA School Lunch Program specifications.
Faleomavaega's response was sent to Samoa News through his office.
Last Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2014, in which reporting language was included about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's canned tuna requirements.
Asked about what action American Samoa could take to ensure that local opposition to changes in these requirements is received by the USDA— the Congressman first made it clear that the federal bill “does not change the current USDA Buy American program.”
“The measure calls upon the USDA to issue a report to the Committee on Appropriations [in Congress] within 60 days of when the bill was signed into law,” Faleomavaega explained in an email reply to Samoa News sent from his Washington D.C. office. “The report is to include potential ways that would allow a revision for the purchase of canned tuna.”
(Samoa News had initially reported that language in the provision calls for the Secretary of Agriculture to report within “90-days” after the bill is enacted. The 90-days referred to by Samoa News was based on the language that was in a separate U.S. House bill last year, but not the language included in the Consolidated Act as it was not yet available.)
Faleomavaega said his office is “spearheading” an effort among Members of Congress to send a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “urging that the USDA suggest alternatives that do NOT weaken the 100% Buy American provisions.”
“By my direction, my office is also preparing a letter to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and the Fono requesting that they join together in also submitting a letter to the USDA,” Faleomavaega said yesterday morning in a statement issued to Samoa News by his office.
The governor and the Fono should receive the Congressman’s letter by today on this issue and the letter will also include the exact language in the bill pertaining to the USDA reporting provision.
“The Committee directs USDA to report to the Committees on Appropriations within 60 days of enactment on potential ways that would allow a revision of the Master Solicitation for Commodity Procurement to allow for the purchase of canned tuna,” it says.
“The report should address the requirement that all tuna be landed by U.S.-flag fishing vessels; the option for less than 100 percent of the value of the tuna product to be United States produced; and the requirement that all tuna products are canned in the United States, its territories, possessions, Puerto Rico, or the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands.”
Faleomavaega stressed that this issue “isn’t about American Samoa versus California or Georgia”. (The two states house operations for the other U.S. canned tuna industries: Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee Seafood).
“This issue is about what kind of canned tuna the USDA should purchase for its school lunch program – tuna made 100% in America or tuna made by child labor, and other exploited labor from around the world,” he said.
“I am of the position and I am confident that Governor Lolo and many members of Congress are also of the same position that the USDA should not purchase canned tuna made by child labor.”
For now, only StarKist meets the 100% USDA Buy American requirements and when Tri-Marine International is up and running with its Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., cannery plant in Atu’u, “I believe it will also meet the requirements,” he said.
“When and if Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea decide to live by the 100% Buy American provisions, then they will also be allowed to have their tuna served in America’s schools,” Faleomavaega pointed out. “Until then, we must band together and call upon the USDA not to offer ways of purchasing canned tuna that would weaken the 100% Buy American provisions.”
Samoa News informed the Congressman that former Gov. Togiola Tulafono is spearheading, along with local longline fleet owners, Carlos and Christina Sanchez, a petition opposing the USDA reporting requirement provision.
Asked if this petition can help with American Samoa’s cause, Faleomavaega responded, “I believe hearing directly from the people is always helpful to any cause, even causes that will ultimately be determined by Congress, which will weigh more heavily the input of Governor Lolo and our Fono since the people have elected them to be their local voice.”
“I deeply appreciate [former] Governor Togiola’s support and also that of Governor Lolo,” he concluded.
Faleomavaega had claimed in a letter last December to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, that Chicken of the Sea “outsourced the cleaning and processing of tuna loins to its parent company in Thailand, where workers are paid low-wages and where serious and well-documented issues of human rights violations exist in the tuna factories where the tuna is cleaned.”
“The same is true of Bumble Bee which also outsources the loining of its tuna to locations including Thailand, where child, slave, trafficked and other exploited labor is used to pre-process tuna loins,” he further claimed.
The claim was disputed by Bumble Bee’s CEO and president, Chris Lischewski, in an Op-Ed that appeared late last week in the publication,“The Hill”.