Bold Moves: Senate to End Catfish Inspection Program

Posted: Jun 11, 2012 12:33 PM

Hey, it's a start! The Senate will vote this week to end a federal catfish inspection program and yes, the move is being called "controversial."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is required to set up a catfish inspection program under the 2008 farm bill, and has been dragging its feet in putting the program into place. Normally, UDSA inspects meat and eggs, but leaves fish to the Food and Drug Administration.

The USDA estimates that the new program would cost $14 million a year to run, compared to the $700,000 currently spent by the Food and Drug Administration.

A new Government Accountability Report compiled in May urged Congress to eliminate the program. It argues that FDA will have sufficient powers under new legislation to inspect imported fish properly.

But why was this program "necessary" to put into the 2008 farm bill? Apparently, politicians and supporters were concerned about the risk of salmonella from imported catfish, however, opponents say there is a lack of evidence to prove salmonella is a significant risk.

Supporters of the program say imported catfish are a salmonella risk that the FDA’s program does not sufficiently address. Catfish Farmers of America argues that since only 2 percent of fish are actually inspected by FDA, keeping catfish under the agency’s oversight is a threat to public health.

Opponents say that the real reason for the USDA program is to protect the domestic catfish industry from competition with Vietnam and China. They say there is insufficient evidence of salmonella risk, and that under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules the program would constitute an unfair trade barrier. The WTO could allow Vietnam to retaliate if a WTO panel determines that is the case.

One way to avoid salmonella in your catfish? Fry it.