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USDA to Faleomavaega: No plans to change Buy American provision for canned tuna

reporters@samoanews.com

Following a directive by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, his staff met last week with officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discuss required reporting language in the Buy American provision regarding canned tuna products for the school lunch program, according to a news release sent on Thursday from his Washington D.C. office.
 
Prior to the news release, the Congressman in a letter on Wednesday told Gov. Lolo Matalasi Lolo about the Feb. 4 meeting between his staff and USDA officials held in Washington D.C. The letter also informed the governor of the latest development, which includes a letter on Feb. 10 signed by the Congressman and U.S. Rep. George Miller of California to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging USDA “to keep canned tuna made by child labor out of America’s school lunch program.”
 
The letter to Vilsack was provided to the governor and copies were also sent to the Fono.
 
Faleomavaega thanked the governor and House Vice Speaker Talia Fa’afetai Iaulualo for their support in these efforts opposing any changes to current provisions of the Buy American provision concerning canned tuna for USDA's school lunch program.
 
In his news release, the Congressman said that by his direction, his office staff met on Feb. 4 with USDA officials from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) division, and he was provided with a subsequent update.
 
“I was pleased by the outcome of the meeting,” Faleomavaega is quoted in the news release as saying. “In the meeting, USDA reiterated that it is not planning to change any provisions to the current canned tuna program.”
 
“Congress only directed USDA to develop a report on the identified issues. In its report, USDA stated that it will clarify to Congress that if Congress chooses to change domestic origin requirements for tuna for the school nutrition programs, then USDA may be forced to apply the same standard to all agricultural products – including pork, beef, etc.,” he said.
 
“If this is the case, Congress may hesitate to lower standards, given that doing so would cause a ripple effect and set a precedent that Congress may not want to set,” he said.
 
“Of course, if Congress decides to change the requirements only for tuna and stated that in the law, then USDA would only have to change the policy for tuna. If Congress lowered the 100% domestic requirement, it could either be for tuna only or for other products, depending on how they do it,” he said.
 
“However, even if Congress only changed the law for tuna, it could open the door to special exceptions for other commodities in the future, and USDA will make this plain in its report,” Faleomavaega said.
 
On Feb. 10, his staff also provided USDA with a power point presentation, and the USDA informed his office that it will incorporate any appropriation information into its report to Congress, according to the release.
 
(The power-point presentation, which was also sent to the governor and the Fono, was the same one the Congressman’s staff made to certain key members of Congress late last year, about the use of child labor and brutal labor practices at factories overseas used by Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee in cleaning and processing their tuna products before sending those products to the U.S. for canning.)
 
Faleomavaega went on to say that on Feb. 4, he submitted a letter and the same power point presentation to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, which was faxed and received in her office at 1:51 pm on Feb. 4.
 
He says this is contrary to Office of Insular Area executive director Nikolao Pula’s comment that the letter was received late afternoon on Feb. 5. (This information regarding Pula’s comment was based on a Samoa News story on Feb. 11.)
 
“Also, according to emails my office received from OIA, my letter to Secretary Jewell was received by OIA on February 6, which is contrary to Mr. Pula’s comments that OIA received a copy of my letter on February 7.
 
“For the record, as a matter of protocol, Members of Congress write directly to the Secretary and it is up to the Secretary’s office to transmit the information accordingly,” he said.
 
“Also, as a matter of record, on February 7, 2014, OIA asked my office for the names and contact information of the persons at USDA with whom we are communicating and, in response, my office offered to set up an appointment between OIA, USDA officials and my staff to ensure that all messages remain consistent,” said Faleomavaega.
 
“OIA responded that they would prefer to have a separate meeting so my office connected OIA by email to our USDA contacts. USDA officials informed OIA via email that a meeting had already taken place with my office but if OIA had specific questions about the report that were still outstanding that they would be happy to answer them,” he said.
 
As of Thursday, “our USDA contacts have informed my office that they have not heard back from OIA, which is okay, since as Mr. Pula stated in Samoa News, ‘this issue is directed at a program managed by the US Department of Agriculture, not Interior.’ Nevertheless, I continue to welcome OIA’s involvement in any future meetings about this issue,” Faleomavaega said.
 
Regarding the Samoa News headline on the Feb. 11 story “OIA calls Buy American Tuna policy in new law a ‘potential disaster’,” Faleomavaega said this is “ inaccurate” as there “is no new law.”
 
Faleomavaega continued, "USDA has no power to enact a new law. USDA has only been directed by Congress to issue a report. Based on USDA’s report, it will be up to Congress to decide whether or not to change the law,’ he said. “If and when a bill is presented before Congress to change the law, we will stand together to oppose it.”
 
Samoa News should point out the ‘new law’ referred to in its headline was the new Consolidated Appropriations Act signed recently by President Obama, while the “potential disaster” is in reference to the USDA reporting language the new law requires be made within 60 days concerning the Buy American tuna policy for the school lunch program.
 
Samoa News should further point out Faleomavaega’s Office has still not made an official statement about the Congressman’s health — whether he is back in his office working or still recuperating from his unnamed illness. We would like to note this is election year for the territory’s congressional seat and to date there has been no word if Faleomavaega is running for re-election (and the vultures are circling).



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