Want a hot bison sandwich on rye? The uncommon food product may soon be on the table for troops as Congress has proposed in its annual defense bill the Department of Defense purchase bison meat from native tribes and organizations.

House lawmakers passed their $840 billion version of the National Defense Authorization Act out of committee on June 23, incorporating a series of amendments that included, among others, a procurement measure for bison meat. The final annual defense bill must still be passed by the full House, and later agreed to by the Senate, which earlier in June passed its own version out of committee.

If passed, the Pentagon will begin “increasing procurement of bison meat...with the goal of procuring two million pounds of bison meat annually to promote bison as a healthy and sustainable food source and further treaty and trust responsibilities and Native American agriculture,” according to the amendment text.

The amendment would also direct the secretary of defense to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services by Feb. 1, 2023, outlining opportunities to increase the procurement of bison meat and other agricultural products from native tribes and organizations.

The amendment was introduced by Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and Marine veteran.

“The success of our nation’s armed forces is dependent upon its ability to innovate and use resources efficiently. One possible practice is the procurement and use bison meat in Indian Country,” Gallego said in a statement to Military Times. “As a leader in Congress on Tribal issues, I have seen the success Tribes have had in rehabilitating our country’s bison population, and the military would benefit from this meat to keep troops fed. That’s why my NDAA amendment is a cost-effective win for both our military and Indian Country.”

This unique component to the annual defense legislation serves as an example of how the Pentagon aims to expand its relationship with native communities, as well as how the nutritional value of an otherwise untraditional military food may become a new staple that packs a protein-filled punch for troops.

The Pentagon and other government agencies already work with tribes to acquire goods and services thanks in part to the Buy Indian Act, which gives the Department of the Interior the authority to create contracts with native businesses. The yearly number of new contracts can range from $20 million to more than $60 million according to DOI.

There are approximately 3,500 bison at Yellowstone, the largest free-roaming bison population in the world, and roughly 400,000 in North America, according to the National Bison Association, a non-profit group for bison producers and consumers.

The National Bison Association has long been advocating for the nutritional value of bison. The U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that per 100 grams of bison meat there are a total of 25.4 grams of protein, compared to 17.2 grams in traditional 80% lean ground beef.

Nearly 30,000 bison have been slaughtered in U.S. federal plants this year and nearly 245,000 pounds of boneless and bone-in chilled bison meat has likewise been imported from Canada, according to the USDA’s most recent monthly bison report.

In 2021, Vox reported that the Army once tried to exterminate bison and also as recently as last year bison have been found to roam around at military installations, as reported by CBS. The USDA is now launching a new study this month that will focus on health and nutrition of bison as well as industry management.

After the NDAA’s passage, Pentagon leaders will be given until next February to come up with a plan to work on this new procurement assignment with federally recognized tribes and tribal organizations.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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