House bill supports Eni and ‘Buy American’ provision

Prior to the Fono taking a two week recess, House Vice Speaker I’aulualo Fa’afetai Talia introduced on Monday a House Concurrent Resolution supporting Congressman Faleomavaega Eni’s strong opposition to any changes made to the Buy American provision on canned tuna products.


Early last week, Faleomavaega called for the territory to band together with him and other members of Congress to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) not to weaken the current 100% Buy American provision, which is part of the USDA School Lunch Program specifications.


At the same time, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga submitted to Fono leaders a draft resolution to support the Congressman for proposed introduction in both chambers, after adding on the Fono’s comments.


The push for a change to the school lunch canned tuna provision, according to the Congressman and lobbyists for StarKist and Tri Marine International, is coming from Chicken of the Sea International and Bumble Bee Foods.


According to the House measure, the people of American Samoa “will unquestionably face severe economic dislocation if Congress sanctions the efforts of Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea” and claimed the two companies are “driven by the bottom line [or profit] and not by the social values of Americans from American Samoa...”


It points out American Samoa holds the distinction of having the highest per capita enlistment rate in the U.S. Armed Forces and “the unfortunate distinction of having the highest per capita casualty rate of fallen soldiers.”


The resolution recalls Chicken of the Sea closed its plant in Atu’u in 2009 and the move “sent devastating economic and financial shock waves” through the territory, eliminating 2,200 direct jobs and reducing the territory’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by approximately 3%, from which the territory is continuing to struggle to recover.


The measure made clear that Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea possess the option of setting up tuna manufacturing facilities in the territory, thus allowing both to access the same Buy American benefits presently available to StarKist, and (soon) to Tri Marine with its planned Samoa Tuna Processors cannery plant.


Attempts by Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea to legitimize their position by calling it the “establishment of an even playing field” by changing the USDA canned tuna provision is for the “purpose of maximizing their profits”, the resolution claims.


On the other hand, it says, American Samoa “is fighting for the survival of its people, whose lives will be devastated if StarKist and Tri Marine, based on unattractive economic factors, elect to move elsewhere as a result of externally applied Congressional action that places our fragile economy in further jeopardy.”


The House resolution promulgates its support of American Samoa’s “opposition against the attempt to dilute any provision of the 100% Buy American Act” as eloquently made public by Faleomavaega and fully supported by Lolo, according to the measure.


Copies of the resolution, upon its passage, are to be sent to Faleomavaega, other members of Congress, the governor and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, “requesting her support to intercede on behalf of American Samoa.”


The resolution is assigned to the House Rules Committee and a hearing is not expected to be scheduled until the Fono reconvenes Feb. 10.


Provision of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2014, requires USDA to issue a report to the Committee on Appropriations in Congress within 60 days of when the bill was signed into law.


“The report is to include potential ways that would allow a revision for the purchase of canned tuna,” Faleomavaega told Samoa News last week.




The reporting language for USDA, outlined under the Consolidated Act provision subtitled — Seafood in Nutrition Programs begins by saying: “USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends increased intake of seafood, especially those products with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.” It continues, “Due in large part to USDA’s own regulations, canned tuna is currently prohibited from purchase by the Department for inclusion in school nutrition programs,” the provision states.


Samoa News points out this language itself is not true, as canned tuna is currently allowed in school nutrition programs.


Samoa News has learned that this same language was part of a separate U.S. House bill (H.R. 2410) introduced last year that never made its way out of committee. This particular bill included the 60-day reporting requirement for USDA.


And, at the time this provision was first put through the House (as H.R. 2410), there was a temporary interruption of available canned tuna from StarKist Samoa.


However, Faleomavaega — in a letter last December to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and others in Congress opposing the reporting requirement in H.R. 2410 — pointed out that the temporary interruption, due to a warning letter StarKist received from the Federal Drug Administration in 2011 about deviations from the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control of Point (HACC) and Low Acid Food Requirements, was over.  Additionally, the suspension was lifted.


Samoa News understands that apparently what happened was when the Congressional Appropriation Committees worked on reaching the final language of the Consolidated Act, the entire provision on the reporting requirement from H.R. 2410 was lifted without any changes — and put inside the Consolidated Act “as is”, despite the fact canned tuna is currently being purchased by the Department for inclusion in school nutrition programs.

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