Controversial catfish program moves ahead

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 30, 2014 - Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a longtime supporter of USDA's controversial catfish program, announced today that the Agriculture Department has forwarded to the White House Office of Management and Budget a final rule to establish a USDA catfish inspection program. Cochran said he received the news at the 79th meeting of the Delta Council, an economic development organization representing 18 Delta and part-Delta counties in Mississippi.

Lets Talk Food

The Mississippi senator praised the White House's action. “As more nations restrict the import of tainted catfish-like products, the implementation of a more vigorous American inspection program makes sense,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to pressure the Obama administration to let this food safety program get underway.”

But elsewhere, others continued to argue that the program is duplicative and wasteful. Many, including groups like the Heritage Foundation and lawmakers including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., say FDA should regain sole authority over the program, which was partially moved to USDA as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

A 2012 Government Accountability Office report concluded, “Responsibility for inspecting catfish should not be assigned to USDA.”

Critics say the inspection program is especially costly because it requires facilities that handle seafood, including catfish, to follow both FDA and USDA regulations. FDA generally oversees seafood inspection; USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) generally takes authority for meat poultry and egg inspection.

In a paper released today, Heritage Foundation research fellow Daren Bakst called the program “the epitome of a trade protectionist scheme that helps a very narrow special interest at the expense of virtually all other Americans.” Opponents like Bakst say the program is meant to protect domestic catfish producers from cheaper product imported from overseas countries like Vietnam.

In today's statement, however, Cochran's office called the FDA's catfish inspection program “inadequate,” arguing the agency examines less than 2 percent of the fish imported into the U.S.

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