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U.S. farm-raised catfish (Photo Credit: Jim Steeby)

Congress to discuss double inspection on imported catfish

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Friday, January 24, 2014, 04:20 (GMT + 9)

The Congress is now discussing the new farm bill, and whether it will include or not a double inspection on imported catfish from two national agencies: the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In the early 2000s, companies such as High Liner began importing Vietnamese catfish, which is far cheaper than American catfish. Southern catfish farmers in places like Mississippi lost a lot of business due to what they deem as inferior and poorly regulated foreign fish.

In 2008, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, a member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Cochran added a catfish provision to the 2008 Farm Bill. It called for catfish to be inspected by a new office at the USDA, besides te inspections the FDA already carries out.

This was questioned by New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Arizona Senator John McCain, who are promoting its repeal.

Both senators consider the Catfish Inspection Program is unnecessary as catfish is a low-risk food. In addition, FDA already monitors catfish, as they do with all fish.

“They’re the ones who have historically done this,” Shaheen says. “It costs [the FDA] about USD 700,000 a year, New Hampshire Public Radio reported.

High Liner operates in the US and Canada, and its sales have reached USD 1 billion annually. However, Chief Operating Officer Keith Decker says, to continue to expand, he needs to be able to import catfish.

“We want to put our sales resources and R&D behind it, but we've hesitated to, given that this legislation is looming out there,” he explained.

On their part, foreign catfish producers - Vietnam in particular - believe the inspection program works as a trade barrier giving domestic firms an advantage.

The organisation Tax Payers for Common Sense has urged in a press released the Farm Bill Conference Committee to repeal the bill as it is aimed at duplicating catfish inspection. The program “has spent USD 20 million over four years and not inspected a single fish. It’s a program theGovernment Accountability Office (GOA) has targeted five times as a waste.”

The final vote on the farm bill is expected next week.

Related articles:

- Obama's 2014 budget will propose cancelling USDA catfish inspections
Both houses launch legislation to eliminate USDA catfish inspections



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