The Senate today voted to reverse farm bill law and shut down the USDA’s catfish inspection program.

The 55 to 43 vote was a win for Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H, who have been for years calling the switch of catfish inspection from FDA to USDA a massive waste of taxpayers’ money.

The passage of the measure, a resolution of disapproval that is allowed for under the Congressional Review Act, now sends the issue to the House.

“I am pleased to see this measure pass in the Senate, and I look forward to continued bipartisan support in getting this resolution through the House," said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo. “This is another power grab by Washington and a blatant waste of the people's hard-earned tax dollars.”

But beyond just the cost, Sen. McCain argued that it was an international issue and threatened the continued ire of Vietnam.

“Let’s be very blunt …” McCain said, speaking before the vote. “The reality of this is to stop competition from foreign sources, specifically one of which is the country of Vietnam.”

The Senate vote will also be welcome news to Vietnam, which continues to rail against the increased regulations being demanded of its catfish farmers from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Vietnam recently sent an open letter to the World Trade Organization, calling the USDA inspection program an illegal trade barrier disguised as a food safety measure.

But Sen. John Wicker, R-Miss., stressed that USDA is already doing a much better job that FDA ever did at insuring unsafe catfish isn’t allowed into the U.S. He pointed to the fact that less than a month after USDA took over import inspection from FDA on Apr. 15, the Department has already blocked two shipments of Vietnamese catfish that were found to be contaminated with banned chemicals.

“When FDA inspected in 2014-2015, FDA picked up two shipments with known carcinogens in two years,” he said.

But Sen. Shaheen said today she didn’t accept that argument: “Despite what my colleague from Mississippi has said, there’s no evidence that the (USDA) catfish program provides any additional food safety benefit. It was designed to create a trade barrier.”

Americans were more likely to get struck by lightning than get sick from imported catfish, she added.

But catfish farmers took the vote today hard.

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“Today’s passage of S.J. Res. 28 by the U.S. Senate is a setback for American Consumers,” said Catfish Farmers of America spokesman Chad Causey.  “This issue is about food safety. FSIS, in a few short weeks, has already provided a much higher level of inspection than FDA ever did.  In literally the first few inspections by FSIS, they denied entry on two shipments of Vietnamese (catfish) for crystal violet and malachite green contamination.”  

And the group Food and Water Watch agreed, saying USDA has already shown that it is far more capable of inspecting catfish.

“The House must not follow the Senate’s misguided resolution to revert back to FDA oversight of catfish safety,” said Wenonah Hauter, the group’s executive director. “USDA’s inspection program relies on continuous government inspection and applies to both domestic and imported products. This is a more protective system for consumers.”


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