by Amanda Marksmeier, Guest Contributor
Many military families stationed in the Pacific are being asked to sacrifice a healthy diet because of limited access to high-quality reasonably priced produce.
One reason for the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables is the changes made in how produce is acquired by overseas commissaries. In response to mounting pressure to reduce the budget, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) decided to discontinue U.S. shipments of fresh produce to Pacific commissaries.
DeCA was able to slash the budget by $48 million, but these savings are coming at the expense of our military and their families stationed in the Pacific. To provide produce at a reduced cost to the government, shipping costs were rolled into the prices and passed along to Pacific commissary customers.
A year after the contract changes were implemented complaints began to pour in regarding pricing and quality of produce. The DoD Inspector General investigated these claims. The IG discovered the new system was saving the government $38 million while costing military families in Japan and South Korea 21% to 32% more than the prior system. To make matters worse, the higher priced produce is lower in quality than the produce that is available in the local markets.
To address these issues DeCA Director Robert Bianchi designated a few target areas to make improvements. Some of the solutions include sending in produce specialists to work with local vendors to reduce costs and streamline inspections. Other ideas being considered are seeking more produce options including lesser quality and lower priced items and educating customers on commissary pricing.
These ideas are a good start, but more can be done to ensure our military families have access to quality reasonably priced produce.
Access to local vendors is a wonderful asset and should help alleviate some transportation costs, however, the idea of lower quality produce seems a bit absurd. Quality is a current complaint of consumers so how would a lower quality product improve the situation? Instead of “educating” consumers on commissary pricing versus local market pricing why not work with local farmers and vendors?
There is a huge movement in the United States to buy local, not only does this support the local economy but it’s environmentally friendly. The fewer miles our food travels will result in lower fuel costs, a reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Sourcing locally grown produce could help with quality as well as lower shipping and transportation costs.
One concern that stems from purchasing produce from local growers is quality control and “safety concerns.” As the DeCA Director stated there is
“no earthly idea how that thing was produced.”
Foreign countries do not have the same federal regulations and health safety guidelines as the U.S., so this is a valid concern. But here is some food for thought:
Many military families living overseas purchase produce in the local markets because of lower prices regardless of lack of regulations so they are already being exposed to “unsafe” produce.
The life expectancy of people living in Pacific countries is higher than that of Americans.
There is significant evidence to suggest that the foods people eat are related to the longevity of their lives. While safety and quality control are a concern, DeCA should do the due diligence and at least consider the possibility of buying produce from local growers.
Produce issues in the Pacific commissaries have been identified and efforts are being made to fix the problems but more can be done to ensure quality at a reasonable cost. Military families living overseas sacrifice time with their extended family and friends as well as the comforts of America – they shouldn’t have to sacrifice access to fresh quality produce too.
Have you experienced the high price of produce at commissaries in the Pacific?
Amanda Marksmeier is an Army wife and mother of four. She works as an employment specialist assisting the military community in achieving their career goals. Amanda is also a contributing writer for a quarterly employment journal and has written for several military affiliated blogs.