Sen. Sullivan touts federal support for agriculture

In a visit to the Alaska Food Festival and Conference last Friday in Homer, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan highlighted several food and environment-related matters being addressed at the federal level.

Food security and food production are among the areas where things are positive for Alaska right now, the Republican senator said.

“I feel that I’m part of the team that helps to connect, advocate and inform,” Sullivan said in reference to improving Alaska’s food system.

Sullivan addressed changes to the Farm Bill this year. He said that while it’s normally associated with big agriculture, Alaska got a lot out of the legislation this time around. One aspect in particular was a change to the National School Lunch Program, which has a “buy American” provision which is supposed to ensure America-grown and made foods are what ends up in front of students more often than not. Sullivan said legislators this year closed a loophole in that provision that was allowing food from other countries, like China, to enter the program.

“There was a loophole in the current law that, believe it or not, allowed Russian-caught pollock … that then is sent to China, injected with phosphates … and then brought back to America, breaded here, and then they considered that breading made in America,” Sullivan said.

He highlighted the fact that better, local fish will be more likely to entice students and children to enjoy it.

Both Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (who submitted a recorded message because she wasn’t able to attend the conference) touted the Alaska-positive improvements in the Farm Bill. However, in his initial budget released on Monday, President Donald Trump has proposed slashing the United States Department of Agriculture by $3.6 billion, or 15 percent.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has also proposed cutting agriculture programs in his own budget, by $1.2 million. KTVA reported those kinds of cuts would completely eliminate things like the farm loan program and marketing for Alaska Grown products.

When asked about these cuts in a meeting with the press and how they relate to federal support for agriculture, Sullivan said he didn’t want to comment specifically on anything the Dunleavy administration is doing. He did, however, say he would caution Alaska legislators to be mindful of cuts in areas of the state budget that would impact federal matching dollars.

“I did say, keep an eye on the programs with regard to a federal match,” he said. “My job is to continue making progress on the policies … resource development, rebuilding our military, rebuilding our Coast Guard — a federal government that wants to help, you know, boost the private sector in terms of these areas, not shut it down.”

In discussing federal issues that affect Alaska, Sullivan touted the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the possibility of oil drilling. He mentioned the bipartisan support for the Save Our Seas Act, which addresses cleaning up ocean waters.

As someone who supports rebuilding the military in Alaska, Sullivan said he’s looking for more information on another of Trump’s proposed cuts — a plan to take about $3.6 billion from military construction funding in the U.S. and redirect it to help build a barrier on the southern border with Mexico.

“Congressman (Don) Young and I sent a letter to the president on that very issue,” Sullivan said. “And we’re … still requesting information on that. … We’re very focused on it. I can say that, because as I mentioned at the outset, there’s a lot of really important military construction that’s going on in Alaska.”

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