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Chicken of the Sea seeks exception to Buy American mandate for tuna

Chicken of the Sea tuna cans
StarKist Samoa is currently the only tuna cannery that qualifies


Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chicken of the Sea International (COSI), a major competitor for StarKist Samoa cannery, contends that application of the Buy American provisions to tuna purchased for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has resulted in higher costs and is not in the best interest of schools or students.

COSI, which is owned by Thailand-based Thai Union Inc., urged the federal government “to except canned tuna from its Buy American provisions due to quantity [8.a] and higher cost [8.b],” according to the company’s Nov. 2nd comment letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which sought responses to a Request for Information on the Buy American provision in the NSLP and the School Breakfast Program (SBP).

COSI — headquarted in Lyons, Georgia — was among the more than 100 commenters who responded to the request for information, with the deadline of submission by Nov. 2nd.

According to COSI, the “Domestic Origin Certification”… “significantly limits canned tuna supply” for NSLP.

The company explained that its Lyons tuna cannery plant processes more than 150 million cans of wild-caught tuna — Albacore, Skipjack, & Yellowfin — for consumption in North America.

“Unfortunately”, argued COSI, the federal government currently requires “Domestic Origin Certification” for canned tuna for the school lunch program, meaning:

•           All tuna products used in fulfilling contracts awarded under the Master Solicitation and this Supplement must be produced in the United States. And that U.S-produced tuna means manufactured from tuna landed by American flag vessels, and completely processed in the U.S its territories, possessions, Puerto Rico, or the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands.

Furthermore, the term U.S-produced does not include tuna caught on American flag vessels and processed outside the U.S or tuna caught on vessels other than American and processed in the United States.

COSI points out that three tuna processors provide more than 90% of the canned tuna to North America consumers and only one of those processors is able to meet the restrictive provisions for the NSLP.

COSI’s comment letter didn’t identify the “one” processor by name, but Samoa News understands that COSI is referring to StarKist Samoa.

“The current status quo of a single ‘approved’ supplier puts our most at risk consumers in jeopardy,” said COSI, which also states that it’s logical that a product that is wild-caught and sourced globally—more than 90% of all canned tuna species (Albacore, Skipjack, and Yellowfin) are caught outside of the U.S. out of necessity and then brought to the U.S. for processing and canning—should be “excepted.”

Regarding “higher cost”, COSI contends that application of Buy American provisions to tuna purchased for the NSLP “results in higher costs and is not in the best interest of schools or students.”

The company asked USDA to consider the finding of the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its 2020 report, referring to the GAO report titled, “AMERICAN SAMOA Economic Trends, Status of the Tuna Canning Industry, and Stakeholders’ Views on Minimum Wage Increases”.

COSI said GAO found that the Buy American provisions enabled only “one domestic tuna producer to compete for NSLP but the cost was so high that the schools waived the provisions to allow non-domestic product.”

The GAO report, citing StarKist Samoa officials, says that operating in American Samoa offers access to certain U.S. government contracts that require U.S.-sourced and -processed fish, and allows them to comply with Buy American requirements.

“However, according to the officials, most school districts that enter into such contracts waive the Buy American requirements because StarKist Co. is the only tuna company that qualifies, and as a result, competitive bids reveal that the cost of domestic product is significantly higher than the cost of non-domestic product,” the GAO report said and cited by COSI.

“StarKist Samoa reported that $15.8 million or 4 percent of its revenue in 2018 was from federal procurement that included contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. military,” the GAO report, released in June last year, said.

COSI argued that given “these higher costs and widespread waivers, tuna purchased for the NSLP should be excepted from Buy American provisions.” Furthermore, an exception would lower the costs for the NSLP and would relieve schools of the uncertainty and administrative burden associated with making waiver determinations on case-by-case basis.

COSI also said that the impact of having an additional approved tuna processor would mean affordability for school districts and a sustained, secure supply chain of additional nutritional lunches for school children nationwide.

COSI previously operated the COS Samoa Packing cannery in American Samoa, but closed down on September 2009 laying off more than 2,000 workers, as it moved its operations to Lyons, Georgia.

Details of the COSI letter, other comments and more information on the USDA request is available on federal portal [].