Industry groups rally around seafood provisions in US Farm Bill
Industry groups representing the commercial seafood sector are rallying support for several provisions to the Farm Bill that would elevate seafood’s profile within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Trade groups, including the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), the Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA), the Pacific Seafood Processors Association (PSPA), and the At-Sea Processors Association (APA), as well as seafood processors Pacific Seafoods and Trident Seafoods, circulated a sign-on letter earlier in September encouraging Congress to adopt the legislation.
The letter lists three “priority requests” for the Farm Bill renewal legislation currently under consideration by Congress. The Farm Bill is the primary legislation used by Congress to set agricultural policy and guide USDA activities.
“The coalition is focused on the Farm Bill because it is marquee agriculture legislation,” NFI Spokesperson Gavin Gibbons told SeafoodSource. “The FDA has a long and successful history of ensuring the safety of seafood, NOAA is a platinum level sustainability regulator, and USDA is known as the cornerstone of targeted food promotion and a new focus on seafood would be welcome.”
The groups’ first priority is the establishment of an Office of Seafood Policy and Program Integration in the USDA Office of the Chief Economist, creating a new role for integrating commercial seafood operations into USDA programs.
“Such an office would also serve a critical role in coordinating with other agencies that have a role in the seafood supply chain, to ensure that all agencies are collectively working toward common seafood support objectives in domestic and global markets,” the letter states.
This proposal is also included in the National Seafood Supply Act of 2023 legislation, brought forward by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
The groups’ second priority is increasing the amount of seafood USDA purchases for the National School Lunch Program, a move that was recommended by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in a report last year. U.S. senators have introduced language into the annual USDA budget bill requiring a USDA report on how it plans to increase seafood consumption in schools.
Finally, the groups want Congress to include provisions clarifying that commercial fishermen, seafood processors, and supporting businesses can access the same grants and financial services provided by the USDA to other agricultural business.
On 25 September, the Southern Shrimp Alliance sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and U.S. House Committee on Agriculture backing the goals of the sign-on letter.
“U.S. shrimpers across the Gulf and South Atlantic are confronting one of the worst years this industry has ever experienced. Throughout shrimping states, coastal communities are declaring disasters as imports push the industry to the brink of collapse,” SSA Executive Director John Williams said. "Making seafood, such as shrimp, eligible under various USDA programs could substantially mitigate this crisis facing our industry today."
The current Farm Bill expires at the end of September, but Congress is unlikely to pass the renewal with or without the seafood provisions before the deadline. Lawmakers could pass an extension of the current Farm Bill to give themselves more time to work on the renewal legislation.
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