StarKist urging USDA to close the loopholes in Buy American Act
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — StarKist Co. has told the federal government that its American Samoa operations “are consistently under threat from the highly-subsidized Chinese tuna industry operating in the Western Pacific” due to state subsidies and few regulation restraints.
And the U.S based company has urged the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the federal government to address the loopholes provision of the federal Buy American Act that allows for the purchase with U.S. tax dollars of foreign-sourced tuna, including the subsidized Chinese product.
Michelle Faist, Head of Corporate Affairs & Government Relations at StarKist Co., made the company’s request known in a May 10 letter, in response to USDA proposed rule “Child Nutrition Programs: Revisions to Meal Patterns Consistent With the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”.
In the letter, addressed to Tina Namian — Director, School Meals Policy Division, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service - Faist noted that StarKist Co., founded in 1917 provides trusted, healthy tuna, salmon and chicken products in the U.S.
StarKist operates its main production facility in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
“We value the opportunity to provide products to America’s children through the National School Lunch Program,” said Faist, who noted that StarKist operates its main production facility in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
In addition, StarKist has been a longtime participant in the USDA’s Buy American program, with 100 percent of StarKist products provided to the program sourced in the U.S.
Indeed, StarKist is the only foodservice processing plant remaining for USA “sourced and packed” foodservice tuna, which is provided to America’s students and military, said Faist.
Furthermore, a total of 14 variations of StarKist shelf-stable, wild-caught tuna and chicken products are Buy American compliant. “Our tuna canned and pouch products offer nutritional benefit — protein, Omega-3s, vitamin D, protein, and iron — and are economical with a shelf-life of 2-3 years, on average,” she explained.
She claimed that “Buy American domestic sourcing standards present challenges for any business operation – particularly for StarKist” — which competes directly with products sourced off-shore that benefit from a price advantage due to comparatively lower labor costs.
“Buy American standards play a critical role in ensuring U.S. tax dollars are supporting high quality, safe products, sourced in the U.S., and help to protect American labor from unfair competition,” Faist points out. “We recognize the Buy American program’s vital role in our national security.”
When first enacted, Faist said, the Federally Assisted School Nutrition Program of 1946 was a national security measure, aimed at ensuring the health and well-being of the nation’s children and preserving the sustainability and consumption of domestically sourced agricultural commodities.
Preserving the original intent of this program should be a central goal of the Department’s proposed revisions, she said.
“The security of America’s domestic agriculture industry is currently under threat from adversarial international forces,” Faist declared. “Tuna is the most consumed fish in the world, with 70 percent of the world’s tuna coming from the Pacific Ocean.”
She also told USDA that StarKist’s operations in American Samoa, “where we are the largest private sector employer, are consistently under threat from the highly-subsidized Chinese tuna industry operating in the Western Pacific, which typically offers tuna products at a fraction of our cost due to state subsidies and fewer regulatory restraints.”
“Loopholes in the Buy American provision allow for the purchase with U.S. tax dollars of foreign-sourced tuna, including [the] subsidized Chinese product,” she said and noted that the proposed revisions offered by USDA do not adequately close these loopholes.
StarKist urged USDA to consider and address the following in its final rule:
• Clarify or eliminate the “significantly higher” cost exception to Buy American purchases;
• Centralize American waiver authority in accordance with the goals of President Biden’s Executive Order 14005;
• Adjust or further define the proposed 5 percent ceiling on the non-domestic commercial foods a school food authority may purchase per school year; and
• Address additional stakeholder questions regarding Buy American auditing processes and compliance.
Faist’s comment letter discussed in more detail the company’s suggestions to close the loopholes. (Details of Faist’s suggestions can be found on federal portal — www.regulations.gov and other submitted public comments.)
The letter noted that, “Globally, governments allocate an estimated $35.4 billion annually in fishing subsidies, with China providing more in subsidies than any other nation, and the U.S. spending less than half of what China spends on these subsidies.”
In conclusion, Faist said StarKist applauds the Biden Administration’s long overdue efforts to strengthen Buy American requirements in the context of the National School Lunch Program.
However, as written, she said, the proposed rule fails to adequately address the original intent of Executive Order 14005, specifically as it relates to the centralization of Buy American waiver authority and the enhancement of domestic purchasing.
“As U.S. industries face competition from China on multiple fronts, implementing policies aimed at nullifying unfair state aid practices is a key tool at the administration’s disposal to thwart efforts from abroad to destabilize U.S. industry,” Faist said.
“With the Administration recently announcing a Pacific Island Strategy as a priority of its foreign policy, it is essential that American companies operating in the region, such as StarKist, are sustained through reliable Buy American practices in order to continue to build ties with neighboring island nations,” she said. “We urge you to seriously consider and ultimately address the aforementioned suggestions.”
(Samoa News notes that the Pacific Island Strategy was announced last September with details online at www.whitehouse.gov)