USDA widens school meal standards to allow purchases of more local seafood; Trident, Channel Fish earn USD 21.8 million in federal contracts

Children in a U.S. school cafeteria.
Children in a U.S. school cafeteria | Photo courtesy of Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock
4 Min

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced new child nutrition standards for school meals that will likely benefit domestic seafood producers.

Under a new final rule published 25 April 2024, the USDA will allow schools to have greater flexibility with menu planning, an enhanced ability to purchase local seafood, and other standards that include reduced sugar and sodium. The standards will be gradually rolled out between the 2025 and 2027 school years.

Additionally, starting in fall 2024, schools have the option to require unprocessed agricultural products to be locally grown, raised, or caught when making purchases for school meal programs, making it easier for schools to buy local foods, the agency said.

Beginning in fall 2025, schools will have limits on the percentage of non-domestic-grown and -produced foods they can purchase, which will “enhance the role of American farmers, producers, fishers, and ranchers in providing nutritious foods to schools,” the USDA said in a press release.

The new standards are “a great step toward improved nutrition for children in the U.S.,” according to Seafood Nutrition Partnership Founder and President Linda Cornish.

“They allow children to have more access to essential nutrients from seafood and promote domestic fisheries by featuring locally sourced and traditionally Indigenous foods on their plate,” Cornish told SeafoodSource.

SNP is also encouraging schools to increase seafood meal options in cafeterias.

“We support healthy nutrition for all ages to align more closely with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans' recommendations to eat seafood at least twice weekly,” Cornish said.

The update follows on USDA’s April announcement it will purchase more Alaska pollock, salmon, and other seafood for its National School Lunch Program (NSLP), as well as for other federal food nutrition assistance programs.

On 30 April, the USDA awarded Trident Seafoods and Channel Fish contracts worth more than USD 21.8 million (EUR 20.4 million) to supply Alaska pollock and Atlantic pollock, along with haddock and ocean perch, for the NSLP and other federal nutrition programs.

Seattle, Washington, U.S.A-based Trident was awarded a contract worth around USD 12.1 million (EUR 11.3 million), while Braintree, Massachusetts, U.S.A.-based Channel Fish will supply around USD 9.7 million (EUR 9.1 million) worth.

Alaska pollock nuggets accounted for the majority of the contracts. The USDA purchased 5.7 million pounds of Alaska Pollock nuggets, worth nearly USD 12.4 million (EUR 11.6 million). The USDA also bought 9,000 cases of Atlantic pollock at a value of around USD 2 million (EUR 1.9 million), 15,300 cases of haddock fillets worth USD 4.2 million (EUR 3.9 million), and 9,900 cases of ocean perch fillets worth nearly USD 3.3 million (EUR 3.1 million).

The Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP) was “pleased to see USDA award the full 5.7 million pounds of Alaska pollock nuggets to GAPP member companies Trident Seafoods and Channel Fish Company – two outstanding U.S. seafood firms,” GAPP CEO Craig Morris told SeafoodSource.

The fiscal year ending 30 September become a big one for USDA purchases of Alaska seafood. The agency has already bought its second-highest amount of Alaska pollock by volume and third-highest by value, according to Morris. So far this year, the federal government has purchased over 26.5 million pounds of Alaska pollock at a value of nearly USD 62.8 million (EUR 58.7 million).

“These federal purchases will place nutritious and delicious domestically produced seafood items into the freezers of those in our society most in need. We thank USDA for these purchases – not only for the support it provides our industry during this challenging time but also for providing those who rely on food assistance to feed their families with healthy seafood choices,” Morris said.

The USDA is planning to purchase additional pollock and other seafood this year, issuing an amended pre-solicitation notice updating its 11 April pre-solicitation notice.

In the new notice, the USDA said it plans to purchase Alaska pollock in the following formats: 49.5-pound blocks, 40-pound boxes of breaded fillets, 40-pound boxes of breaded sticks, and 40-pound boxes of breaded nuggets.

The agency will also purchase catfish fillets, breaded catfish strips, Atlantic pollock fillets, haddock fillets, and ocean perch fillets.

The USDA will issue solicitations in the near future for deliveries of these products beginning 1 July 2024 through 30 June 2025, which will be available through the agencys Web-Based Supply Chain Management (WBSCM) system.

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