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Senate Farm Bill ‘Vote-o-rama’ Rejects Catfish Inspection Program

Few food safety measures among Senate's 73 farm bill amendments

The Senate was hard at work Tuesday considering dozens of farm bill amendments in an hours-long “vote-o-rama” that included repealing a 2008 farm bill provision to create a catfish inspection program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Unless the House decides that the program — which the Government Accountability Office has deemed duplicative and an inefficient use of resources — deserves saving, this special office within the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will likely not be created.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) spoke on the floor in support of the amendment, which was introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Kerry said the program was wasteful and should never have been included in the last farm bill.

“This would be entirely duplicative, a waste of time, hurt consumers, and hurt processors,” he said, adding that there would be no food safety benefit from the program.

Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas, a catfish-producing state, offered “the other side of the story.”

“It’s important that we inspect these fish as they come in because they aren’t grown in the same sanitary conditions as we have in the United States,” said Pryor. “They use different herbicides and pesticides and they have different pollutants. In fact we’ve seen documented cases where they’ve been raised in sewage water, water contaminated with sewage.”

According to the GAO, the USDA’s inspection program would have focused on Salmonella, not chemical or drug residues.

The amendment was adopted by voice vote.

Other Food Safety-Related Amendments

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had no luck including her egg standards bill on the list of 73 amendments the Senate considered under unanimous consent on Tuesday.

Opposition from animal agriculture groups — other than the big players in the egg industry, who by and large supported the bill — lobbied hard to kill the measure, which would have mandated more space and enriched cages for egg-laying hens. Calling it a “farm takeover bill,” ag groups expressed worry it would set a precedent for more federal involvement in livestock raising.

Noting that the amendment had bipartisan support and was backed by industry, veterinarians, and animal rights groups, Feinstein said she was disappointed with the exclusion.

“The major opposition to this amendment came from groups wholly unaffected by it,” lamented Feinstein. “Without Congressional action, the egg industry in California and the rest of this nation is very much in jeopardy. Individual state standards threaten to cripple the industry.”

The senator did win the adoption of language that directs USDA to conduct a study on the feasibility of crop insurance to cover losses for producers who are not involved with, but negatively impacted by foodborne illness outbreaks and recalls.

“When this happens producers suffers major financial losses because of a recall they did not cause,” said Feinstein in a floor speech, also noting the measure was endorsed by United Fresh.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Agriculture Committee, said she strongly supported the amendment and no one spoke up in opposition. The amendment cleared the Senate by a vote, 76-23.

Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) succeeded in adding a similar amendment, which directed USDA to study the feasibility of government-backed insurance for poultry producers — to cover things like disease outbreaks, or losses due to high feed prices.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had proposed an amendment to stiffen criminal penalties for those who knowingly violate food safety laws, but his measure was not included in the package of amendments.

The Senate is expected to continue voting on amendments and perhaps even vote on the final bill Wednesday.

© Food Safety News
  • doc raymond

    Helena, i hope you can find out how many thousands of dollars were totally wasted by FSIS trying to develop the rules and regs for the catfish program as they were directed to do by the 2008 Congress’s Farm Bill.

  • hbottemiller

    See my report last week on the GAO report:
    FSIS estimates that it would cost taxpayers and the industry $14 million each year, and around 98 percent of that cost would be borne by taxpayers. And money has already been spent. Between 2009 and 2011, the agency spent $15.4 million in the developing the program and is slated to spend $4.4 million more in FY 2012.
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/06/gao-blasts-moving-catfish-from-fda-to-usda-jurisdiction/

  • Val

    Indeed, as they were directed to do by the 2008 Congress’s Farm Bill. That somehow seems to get lost in the shuffle and so FSIS is made to be the bad guy, as if FSIS asked for this new responsibility, regulating a food for which it had (has) no expertise.

  • Helena Bottemiller

    See my report last week on the GAO report:
    FSIS estimates that it would cost taxpayers and the industry $14 million each year, and around 98 percent of that cost would be borne by taxpayers. And money has already been spent. Between 2009 and 2011, the agency spent $15.4 million in the developing the program and is slated to spend $4.4 million more in FY 2012.
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/06/gao-blasts-moving-catfish-from-fda-to-usda-jurisdiction/