The Senate is considering a measure this week to repeal a catfish inspection program that the government’s watchdog has identified as wasteful and duplicative.
S.J. Res. 28 would nullify a rule from the Department of Agriculture that established a mandatory inspection program for catfish. It requires only Senate passage — and the president’s signature — to go into effect, as outlined under the Congressional Review Act.
The Senate yesterday evening voted 57-40 to begin debate and is scheduled to vote on the resolution today.
The Food and Drug Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service already inspect catfish. But the 2008 farm bill required USDA to start a program of its own, and last year, the agency followed through with a rule.
Since 2012, the Government Accountability Office has urged Congress to repeal the inspection program, which it said would cost $14 million each year to implement. But lawmakers are split on whether to do so, making it difficult to pass legislation on the issue.
Earlier this year, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) heralded the "conclusion of a seven-year fight" to keep the USDA program, upon the deployment of USDA inspectors to farm-raised catfish operations.
"I am confident that the Department of Agriculture inspection program will work to ensure that safe and nutritious catfish is being sold in this country, whether it is produced and processed here or abroad," he said in March. "The seven-year fight to reach this point has been a long haul, but well worth the effort."
The domestic catfish industry, which has seen its sales decrease amid imports, pushed for the program, claiming that FDA did not inspect imported catfish well enough. But GAO contends that USDA inspections will not make the fish safer and only add to taxpayers’ cost.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) first introduced the resolution in December, calling the USDA program "a classic example of anti-free market protectionism."
"The true purpose of the catfish program is to erect a trade barrier against foreign catfish suppliers to the economic benefit of a handful of domestic catfish growers in southern states," they said in a statement at the time. "Over the past several years, we’ve sponsored legislation to eliminate this program and we urge our colleagues to join us in sending a message that we won’t stand for this wasteful catfish inspection office."