Bottom Feeders Take a Bite Out of the Farm Bill | Citizens Against Government Waste

Bottom Feeders Take a Bite Out of the Farm Bill

The WasteWatcher

On June 10, 2013 the Senate passed its version of the 2013 Farm Bill, which included a provision to create a new catfish inspection office at the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 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’s op-ed in Politico on June 7, 2013 stated, “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 FSIS office would cost $14 million annually.  The House version of the Farm Bill does not include this extraneous expenditure for catfish.

The new FSIS program is redundant.  The USDA has not historically had jurisdiction over the fishing industry.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with inspecting fish from overseas, while the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) ensures health and safety measures for catfish farming with a pay-for-service program.  The FDA also conducts random inspections of catfish farms, which is a more cost-effective alternative than the proposed USDA 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 and increased consumption of foreign products.  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 both higher temperatures and feed prices.  In addition, 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 reducing imports might increase income for some U.S. catfish farmers, it will end up costing taxpayers and consumers more money.

There are two federal programs already handling catfish; creating a third would be a wasteful and unnecessary use of taxpayer resources.

Elliot Abrams

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