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Bills Introduced to Cut USDA’s Catfish Inspection

Bipartisan groups in the U.S. House and Senate introduced bills on Thursday that aim to eliminate the development of a catfish inspection program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they call redundant and wasteful.

In the House, Congresswomen Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1313, while Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) brought S. 632 to the Senate. Both bills would amend the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 measure that would move inspection and grading of catfish to the USDA from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published last June, moving oversight of catfish to the USDA would create an estimated upfront cost of $30 million, along with $14 million in annual operational costs.

“Businesses, industry leaders and members of both parties all agree that repealing the USDA Catfish Inspection Program is a smart move that will rein in excess spending and save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Senator Shaheen in a press release.

Proponents of the inter-agency catfish hand-off say it would put domestic catfish producers on a level playing field with importers if the fish was subject to USDA inspection, which is seen as more robust and continuous than FDA’s intermittent inspection model. As of 2010, imports accounted for 23 percent of the U.S. catfish market.

The FDA has long overseen all seafood inspections, while the USDA handles all other types of meat and eggs.

The GAO has questioned the public health impact of increasing catfish inspections, considering that the fish has been inconclusively linked to just one Salmonella outbreak in more than 20 years, and that outbreak occurred several years before the establishment of FDA’s 1997 Seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points regulations.

“Sparse information on the distribution of microbial contamination and chemical residues on catfish limit our ability to make strong statements about the baseline risk,” read a 2011 report drafted by the USDA’s own Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“It’s common sense that the proposed USDA Catfish Office should be eliminated given the criticisms lodged against it by the Government Accountability Office,” said Senator McCain in the same press release. “Its true purpose is to prop up the domestic catfish industry at the expense of the American consumer and our international trade partners.”

According to the press release, posted on Congresswoman Hartzler’s website, “Supporters of the legislation to eliminate the USDA Catfish Inspection Program include the American Soybean Association, Food Marketing Institute, National Meat Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Restaurant Association, and the United States Dairy Export Council.”

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  • doc_raymond

    And 5 years ago Congress said it was imperative to move the inspection to USDA because imported catfish posed a serious public health risk.