Debate over new catfish inspection program heats up

Erich Luening
July 19, 2016
By Erich Luening

The US government's recent decision regarding the inspection of Asian catfish imports has split the US Congress between Southern, mainly Gulf States, who support the program and members from other regions of the country who don't have constituents dependent on the American catfish aquaculture industry, but rather the seafood processing sector.

            In May, the United States Senate passed a bill, S.J. Res. 28, which would end USDA’s catfish inspection program.

            As reported in the May/June issue of Aquaculture North America (ANA), domestic catfish farmers who have difficulty competing with Asian-raised pangasius want the USDA inspection program to stay in place. However, some trade groups believe that the program is nothing more than government waste and extra bureaucracy, pointing to already existing fish import regulations.

            Supporters of the program, a bipartisan congressional group of 21 members, wrote on May 31  a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging the leadership of the House not to take up the Senate resolution to shutter the USDA inspection program.

            “Overwhelming evidence suggests that imported catfish and catfish-like products represent a significant food safety threat to the American public, and accordingly Congress transferred inspection authority from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS)," they wrote.

            They asked the House toss out the Senate resolution rather than vote on it. They also noted that Senate opponents made arguments that were erroneous and based on false information.

            They also argued the cost of the USDA catfish inspection program is just $1.1 million annually, which is “a small price to pay to protect the food supply.”

The other side

By June, members of Congress who support the Senate resolution to disapprove the USDA inspection program started their campaign to bring the resolution to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

            "The USDA's duplicative catfish inspection program is hurting businesses like High Liner Foods [based in the state of New Hampshire] by burdening them with the prohibitive cost of complying with additional, unnecessary inspections.," Senator Kelly Ayotte (Democrat of New Hampshire).

            If the resolution is enacted into law, it would nullify the new catfish inspection rules, including any portions of the regulations that have already gone into effect.

            The House of Representatives has not yet scheduled debate on the Senate resolution and is not expected to before congress goes on summer recess.

Erich Luening

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