As the 2012 Farm Bill debate heats up, there is little that Congress can agree upon. However, taxpayers should be encouraged by recent bipartisan proposals in both chambers of Congress that would eliminate wasteful spending. The proposals seek to repeal the Office of Catfish Inspection Programs (OCIP), which transferred the inspection of catfish from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the USDA. This transfer of regulation is unnecessary and duplicative, as there are already provisions in place which regulate seafood safety.
The 2008 Farm Bill amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) to make catfish an amenable species under the FMIA. The Food Safety and Inspective Service created OCIP to develop and manage a model, science-based, pond-to-plate inspection program. A June 21, 2012 Wall Street Journal article explained that the original legislation was backed by domestic producers in an effort to ban imports of a popular Vietnamese fish called the pangasius, which has a similar taste and texture to American catfish. Before creation of OCIP, catfish was regulated with all other seafood by the FDA.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in May estimating that the catfish inspection program will cost $14 million per year. The GAO also determined that the program would cause duplication and inefficient use of resources and recommended that catfish inspection be left to the FDA.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill to repeal the duplicative catfish program. The amendment was cosponsored by eight Democrats and seven Republicans and was agreed on by a voice vote. In the House, a similar measure was rejected by the House Agriculture Committee. However, the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), has also proposed a bill which would return catfish inspection to the FDA. Rep. Hartzler’s bill has bipartisan support from 47 cosponsors and has been referred to committee.
Repeal of the catfish inspection program is recommended by the GAO, has bipartisan congressional support, and has already been agreed on in the Senate. It is time for the House to follow the lead of the Senate in cutting this wasteful program.
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