WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has voted to scrap a new catfish inspection program that critics have argued is wasteful and unnecessary.
The vote Wednesday came just after President Barack Obama visited Vietnam, a major exporter of catfish to the United States that has criticized the program. The Senate has approved by 55-43 a resolution that would void the regulations, if the House agrees and Obama signs on.
The inspection program was first created by Congress in the 2008 farm law and is championed by lawmakers from catfish-producing states, including Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. The law took safety oversight of catfish and other ray-finned fish away from the Food and Drug Administration and gave that authority to the Agriculture Department, which does more frequent inspections.
USDA delayed putting the program in place for several years, but inspections started in March and are being phased in over the next year.
Supporters said the inspections are a necessary precaution against potentially tainted imports from Asia. USDA has already found illegal drug residue in some shipments.
"It is clear that the inspection rule is working as intended to protect consumers," Cochran said on the Senate floor, urging his colleagues to vote against the resolution.
Republican Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other critics have said the added regulation is wasteful and solely intended to raise a new, higher hurdle for catfish imports from Vietnam and other nations. Besides the new catfish inspections, USDA has traditionally only been responsible for meat, poultry and processed eggs. FDA inspects most other foods.
"This kind of program is exactly what our hardworking citizenry who work hard and pay their taxes, they don't get it," McCain said.
Catfish is among the most popular fish in the U.S. The market was long dominated by U.S. producers, located mostly in Southern states such as Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama. But there's been a rise in cheaper Asian imports in recent years.