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StarKist supports SNAP program rule changes — allowing larger variety of food choices

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — StarKist Co., which operates StarKist Samoa in the territory, has lent support to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) proposed rule that would expand the definition of "variety”, saying “it would provide small format retailers with greater flexibility to stock healthy, shelf-stable products in order to meet the eligibility requirements to participate” in the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

When told about the proposed FNS change in definition, two local officials told Samoa News yesterday morning that the proposed change will benefit local recipients as well as stores that accept food stamps issued by the ASG Department of Human and Social Services.

In a public notice, the FNS, an agency of the US Agriculture Department (USDA), announced proposed changes to the SNAP regulations pertaining to the eligibility of certain SNAP retail food stores.

These proposed changes, according to FNS, are in response to the federal Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2017 and 2018, which prohibited USDA from implementing two retailer stocking provisions — the “Breadth of Stock” provision and the “Definition of `Variety' ” provision — of the 2016 final rule titled, “Enhancing Retailer Standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)”, until such a time as regulatory modifications to the definition of “variety” are made that would increase the number of food items that count as acceptable staple food varieties for purposes of SNAP retailer eligibility.

Using existing authority in federal law, FNS proposes to modify the definition of the term “variety” as it pertains to the stocking requirements for SNAP authorized retail food stores.

These proposed changes would provide retailers with more flexibility in meeting the enhanced stocking requirements of the 2016 final rule which were mandated by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill), and align SNAP regulations with the requirements expressed in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2017 and 2018.

The proposed rule does not modify any other provisions or components of the 2016 final rule, “Enhancing Retailer Standards” in the SNAP, said FNS, which is seeking public comments on the proposal.

In his three-page comment letter, StarKist president and chief executive officer, Andrew Choe said the FNS in December 2016 issued eligibility requirements for small format retailers that contained a narrow definition of "variety."

The 2016 Final Rule “made it difficult for small format stores to participate in SNAP because different items from the same species could not count as two separate varieties,” he said.

“In other words, FNS required the items be from a different species to count as a different variety,” said Choe, adding that StarKist found the regulation “to be an impediment to selling its products to certain retailers.”

For instance, he said a retailer could not count a fresh chicken breast as a different variety from StarKist Chicken Creations, as both products are chicken. Similarly, canned tuna and a frozen tuna dinner could not count as two separate varieties in the meat, poultry, or fish category, because they are both composed of tuna.

Choe claims that the Final Rule forced retailers to stock exotic and expensive items that customers did not want to purchase, making it less likely consumers would choose healthy economical protein options like StarKist products.

On the other hand, the proposed rule, he said, expands the definition of variety — particularly with regard to the meat, poultry, or fish category.

“The expanded definition would allow retailers to count a shelf-stable and perishable item for each species in the meat, poultry, or fish category,” said Choe. “This flexibility allows retailers to stock items that consumers want to purchase, that are also healthy and affordable.”

He quotes the US based National Fisheries Institute which says canned tuna is the second most popular seafood product in the U.S., after shrimp.

“Providing flexibility to retailers to count an additional variety of tuna toward the SNAP requirements will facilitate retailers stocking of more tuna items,” he points out. “Likewise, allowing for shelf-stable salmon, like StarKist Salmon Creations, to count as a variety of salmon could introduce consumers to a product they might not typically consider.”

As such, “an expanded definition of ‘variety’ ensures that retailers would be able to stock a greater number of fish and fish products, creating more access to these products for SNAP beneficiaries,” he continued.

He said the USDA recommends that Americans consume 8 or more ounces per week of seafood; therefore, FNS should expand the definition of “variety” to facilitate the consumption of seafood for SNAP beneficiaries.

“Doing so will allow small format retailers to remain in SNAP while also providing low-income Americans with access to healthy affordable protein products,” said Choe, who at the beginning of this letter, told NFS Administrator, Brandon Lipps that StarKist has made “numerous and significant contributions to the American economy.”

He explained that StarKist has steadfastly focused upon sustaining business operations on U.S. soil, “despite the competitive disadvantages it currently faces in doing so”.

Additionally, StarKist is supported by 2,300 employees at its American Samoa plant; 100 employees at the StarKist headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; 65 employees at the facility in Mira Loma, California; 28 service and sales team employees located across the U.S.; and seasonal operations in Alaska.

Choe also provided the company’s brief background, noting that StarKist focuses on providing healthy, shelf-stable, economical protein products in the United States. 

“StarKist was the first brand to introduce pouch products — a healthy, single-serve package that does not require additional preparation, allowing our customers to eat the nutritious products at a time and location that is convenient for them.

“In fact, our products are particularly convenient and beneficial for individuals that may have limited cooking facilities in their homes, or who may have difficulty preparing complicated meals — i.e., the elderly, the disabled, and young children,” he said.