The U.S. Wants to Inspect Your Catfish, Twice

Niraj Chokshi

The farm bill has a reputation and it’s not a good one.

Every five years, lawmakers pass the omnibus legislation renewing and setting agricultural, nutritional, conservation, and forestry policy. It’s unwieldy and often assailed for perpetuating arcane, outdated, and wasteful provisions. And on Tuesday, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and John McCain, R-Ariz., plan to target one such program: an Agriculture Department catfish-inspection program that would cost $14 million a year in wasteful spending, they say.

The problem is that the Food and Drug Administration already has catfish inspection under its control. (The USDA handles inspection of meat, poultry, and eggs, while the FDA handles all other foods.) The USDA program was established by the 2008 farm bill, the last such package passed, and it’s one of dozens highlighted last month in the Government Accountability Office’s annual report identifying redundancies in programs.

There were three key problems with the USDA  catfish program, the report found. First, it would mean both agencies would be tasked with maintaining “hazard analysis” plans requiring companies to identify likely threats to the industry. Second, it would mean that as many as three agencies would be inspecting catfish and other seafood facilities. And, third, the FDA is already undertaking a plan that would streamline regulatory oversight.

Repeal the provisions that set up the new program, GAO recommended, and the government would save about $14 million a year. Doing so is “a matter of common sense,” Shaheen said in a statement. The amendment she and McCain plan to file “will help eliminate excess spending and save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars,” she said.

Some dispute the GAO’s conclusions, however. Once funded, the USDA program would be the only catfish-inspection regime, the Catfish Farmers of America, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking Member thad Cochran have argued.