Catfish Inspections a Waste of Your Tax Dollars?

ABC News
Beyond The Headline
Catfish Inspections a Waste of Your Tax Dollars?

Dick Stevens is a catfish legend in Mississippi.

He's one of the biggest catfish processors in the country, handling 400,000 pounds in just one day.

And believe it or not, one of the driving forces for what critics call a huge waste of millions of your tax dollars. It's a provision in the Farm Bill that gets the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect catfish. There's just one problem.

Two federal agencies are supposed to inspect the same fish: the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. The USDA has spent $20 million in the last 5 years, just for planning those inspections.

“We would say there is a food safety concern,” said Stevens.

But David Acheson, one of the country's foremost food safety experts, disagrees. He’s also a former FDA and USDA official.

"No, a catfish is a catfish is a catfish, he said. “It's a safe food. It certainly isn't public health and the only thing you are left with, it's about politics.”

Why politics? Because the law would make it more expensive for importers to do business. Importers have already grabbed 25 percent of the market and are the main competitors of American catfish growers.

So far, the USDA hasn't inspected a single fish. Though they have used some of that money to order some really nice pens that proclaim “Office of Catfish Inspection Programs.”

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss) was responsible for changing the law. But he declined a request for an interview.

Stevens believes the USDA money “is well spent.”