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McCain Takes Aim at ‘Senseless’ Catfish Inspection Program


Senator and former presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ) is at war against “senseless” measures in the farm bill and the pending catfish inspection program is on his list of top targets.

On the floor Thursday, Sen. McCain mocked a variety of farm bill programs, including a $15 million grant program to improve the sheep industry, a $200 million overseas ag marketing program, and a $25 million initiative to study the health benefits of peas, lentils, and garbanzo beans.

“Mothers all over America that have advocated for their children to eat their peas will be pleased to know there’s a study…” joked the senior senator.

McCain also mocked a mohair subsidy, “which has been fleecing the American people since 1954.” (The subsidy was repealed in the 1990s, but was reinstated in the 2002 farm bill).

“The mohair program, which costs taxpayers about $1 million a year, may not be particularly expensive compared to most farm programs,” said McCain. “I suppose where some of my colleagues see a minor government pittance for wool socks, I see a disgraceful example of how special interests can embed themselves in a Farm Bill for generations.”

One item that seems to have McCain particularly fired up is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s pending catfish inspection program, something that was added to the 2008 Farm Bill — under the guise of food safety — to help protect southern catfish farmers from the influx of import competition.

With support from both sides of the aisle — including Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) — McCain has filed an amendment (#2199) to the 2012 farm bill to repeal the new catfish inspection program.

“As my colleagues know, USDA inspects meat, eggs, and poultry, but not seafood,” said McCain in remarks released by his office. “Thus, a whole new government office is being developed at USDA just to inspect catfish. Catfish farmers have tried to argue that we need a Catfish Inspection Office to ensure Americans are eating safe and healthy catfish. I wholeheartedly agree that catfish should be safe for consumers.”

“The problem is FDA already inspects catfish – just like it does ALL seafood – screening it for biological and chemical hazards,” added McCain. “If there were legitimate food safety reasons for having USDA inspect catfish, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

As Food Safety News noted this week, the catfish program has not yet launched at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, in part due to the agency not having decided on the proper definition of “catfish.”

A new report by the Government Accountability Office seriously questioned the inspection program, calling it duplicative and an inefficient use of government resources.

The report also questioned whether the program would improve food safety. The FSIS risk assessment looked at Salmonella — though there is little to no evidence of a significant public health risk — and not veterinary drugs or other chemical residues, which experts suspect are more likely to pose a public health risk.

FSIS estimates that it would cost taxpayers and the industry $14 million each year to operate the inspection program and around 98 percent of that cost would be borne by taxpayers, according to GAO. And money has already been spent. Between 2009 and 2011, the agency spent $15.4 million just developing the program and is slated to spend $4.4 million more in FY 2012.

Additionally, according to McCain’s office, creating the inspection office would cost taxpayers $30 million up front.

The senator also noted that if the program is not repealed, Vietnam, the largest exporter of catfish, could file a World Trade Organization complaint against the United States for creating an unjustified trade restriction.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Thursday that the Senate will resume consideration of the farm bill on Monday evening, but negotiations over which amendments will be brought to the floor are ongoing.

According to Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the agriculture committee, nearly 300 farm bill amendments have been filed, “which illustrates how important this is to our colleagues from every part of the country.”

“We are continuing to make progress toward a final amendment package and I’m confident we’ll do what the American people want to see us do – come together and pass a bill that will cut spending and create jobs,” said Stabenow in a statement.

Photo credit: The Catfish Institute at www.uscatish.com.

© Food Safety News
  • Rosa

    You have to love politics; I see the point in the Senator McCain why we need to stop duplicating efforts in the federal goverment. We need to enforce regulations and monitoring the US industry. Like this article mention the majority of the Catfish is imported, and how’s inspecting this farms and plants in a regular basis because FDA does foreign inspections but is not every month. If we really wants food that are safety for our consumers let’s use resources government and private to have more in this case catfish farms that can supply the demands in the US and only subside with imports if needed. Why wasting money and resources. I’m a mother as well as a taxpayer and I don’t think that studies about peas and the value are essential for allocate resources and money to this non sense area. Let’s allocate money and resources to conduct and implement a food safety program for all this process food, produce, seafood and meat that comes for third world countries that is been documented that sometimes don’t even have potable water when they manufacturing or processing foods.

  • Ted

    McCain is seldom right but when he is, well, he is really, really right.
    $25 million to study the “healthy” properties of garbanzo beans? Seriously? Everything you need to know about peas and beans is capsulized in a traditional old farmer’s saying: “A horse that farts is never tired, a man who farts is always hired”. ’nuff said.
    Direct the $25 million toward something worthwhile…like prosecuting fraudulent health claims on food advertising.

  • Christiaan

    “there is little to know evidence” ? I understand that spell-check would not have caught this, but your editor should have.

  • The $25 million dollar “peas are good for you” study that McCain is chastising is the Pulse Health Initiative.
    This study would look at ways that pulse crops could be used to fight disease and obesity. It would also work to double the number of pulse crops, and explore new techniques for sustainable agriculture.
    http://usdbc.com/media//DIR_26301/29d1e84b97375ac8ffff8a6effffe906.pdf
    http://www.beanfieldssnacks.com/media/PDFs/Pulse%20Health%20Initiative%20General%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
    http://www.pea-lentil.com/core/files/pealentil/uploads/files/PHI_StrategicPlan_ExecutiveSummary.pdf
    It’s more than a “peas are good for you” study.
    I get so tired of the political misrepresentations, and how there is so little push back against these mischaracterizations.

  • Marty

    Sure, why not $25 million for tripping hippies to reinvent the dreamy splendor of beans? What a sick psychedelic waste of vital research dollars. McCain has their number, alright. Damned wasteful foodie moochers looking to get paid gobs of taxpayer dollars to fool with magic beans. No way, if McCain can help it. Good for McCain and fiscally responsible people everywhere!

  • Mae Johns

    Marty, did you bother reading what Shelley posted? Your mischaracterization of that study is ignorant. And your language is atrocious.

  • Melanie

    McCain has spotted a couple of wasteful cash give-aways in the farm bill. He’s missed quite a few others…like public taxpayer support for organic hobby farming. The farm bill is being debated and crafted right now — call and email your representatives and insist all silly wasteful hobby farm pork be trimmed out of the farm bill!
    http://redgreenandblue.org/2011/01/31/rethinking-public-dollars-to-promote-organic-adoption/

  • James

    There’s “Melanie” trotting out another screed by Steve Savage. Yup — figures can’t lie — but liars can figure.
    And if you want to take a look at where BILLIONS of taxpayers are going down the Agribusiness rat hole — just check out the annual subsides to the commodity crop industry.

  • Ted

    Another perpetually annual giveaway of $20 million, or more, could be cut from wasteful USDA pork spending by eliminating the silly “Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program” (SARE).
    This do-nothing grant agency has, over 20 years, quietly suckeed up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to line the pockets of thousands of ineffective self-described “researchers” feeding mightily from the SARE trough, common dreamers offering nothing more than empty promises to reinvent the wooden wheel in agriculture. Nothing of national or global significance has come from this obtuse effort to re-enact historically inaccurate farming scenarios, and there is no reasonable expectation anything significant ever will be re-invented by these professional grant parasites cum amateur lifestyle hobby farmers.
    More than enough resources have been wasted on this foolish 20 year long SARE experiment, the results are in and there are no results. End this wasteful SARE program now. Use the $20 million this year for something worthwhile, like prosecuting fakers who make fraudulent health claims in food advertising.

  • Jim

    Au Contraire “Ted” — SARE is a great example of of taxpayer dollars WELL SPENT on a wide range of SUSTAINABLE agriculture projects that benefit all of us — nothing like the $$$billions in HUGE subsidies we shell out annually to prop up an ecologically ruinous system that ends up in the pockets of Agribusiness.

  • Richard, Philadelphia

    Magic bean studies and SARE grants benefit one small segment of the populace…effete hobby farmers and their groupies. Gimme, gimme, snuffle, oink, oink, slurp, slurp, slurp, oink, squeal, oink, burrrrppp, ahhh! Our tax dollars hard at work reinventing the wooden wheel to nowhere.
    Call and email your representative to have this wasteful program de-funded.

  • Richard, and tax payer dollars to large industrial corn growers is better? More high fructose corn syrup for all that soda pop?
    We only have to look around us to know that we need to do better. We need to increase access to healthy foods. We need to find better ways of feeding people without adding to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and all the dead waterways along the way.
    We certainly need to find some other way to grow food without genetic modification that only results in super resistant weeds and pests.
    We are failing now. We think we’re well fed, but we’re only fat. We think we have options, but all we have is a one way siphon from other countries. We believe we can control nature … up until nature hits us right in the face.
    So insult away, in your quaint little way, but thoughtful people know that we have, isn’t working.

  • AZ Bill

    McCain deserves some credit for using his head when presented with these pork barrel projects. He calls ’em as he sees ’em when ordinary taxpayers are about to get flanked by affluent special interests. He has a strong record of objecting to frivolous tax waste
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/05/usda-study-shows-gaps-in-local-meat-infrastructure/