The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Bottom Feeders Take a Bite Out of the Farm Bill

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On June 10, 2013 the Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill, which included provisions to operate catfish inspections by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).  Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.) sponsored an amendment that would have eliminated the program, but a vote was blocked by Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

Sen. McCain released an op-ed in Politico on June 7, 2013 stating, “Unless catfish have suddenly sprouted legs, USDA should stick to meat, poultry, and egg inspections.”  A May 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report estimated the cost of an FSIS office to be approximately $14 million a year.  The House’s version of the Farm Bill does not include this extraneous expenditure for catfish.

The new program is redundant.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has historically been separate from the fish industry.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with oversees fish inspection, while the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) ensures health and safety measures for catfish farming with a pay-for-service program.  In addition, the FDA is already conducting random inspections of catfish farms, which is a more cost effective alternative than the USDA proposed daily inspections.  An April 2013 GAO report targeting duplicative programs across the federal government concluded that “…should USDA begin the catfish inspection program as mandated in the [2013] Farm Bill, the program would duplicate work already being conducted by FDA and by the National Marine Fisheries Service...”

Proponents of the “catfish office” have argued that it is necessary because of rising costs of production for domestic fish farmers.  Catfish ponds in the U.S. have diminished from 196,760 acres of water in 2002 to 83,020 acres as of January 2013, a result of high temperatures and feed prices.

However, catfish farming is a private industry, which should not require assistance by the federal government.  U.S. catfish farms are not as efficient as foreign competitors.  The U.S. imports 78 percent of the frozen catfish it consumes, mostly from China and Vietnam.  While eliminating this competition might increase income for some U.S. catfish farmers, it will end up costing taxpayers.

The task of inspections should remain under the supervision of the FDA and NMFS.  Eliminating the FSIS program would save approximately $14 million a year, and would result in little impact to the catfish programs already in place.  There are two programs already handling this mission; creating a third would be a wasted expense and an unnecessary use of government resources.

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