Legislative Activity

Catfish Inspection Program

Although discussions surrounding government regulation of catfish have slowed on Capitol Hill since the enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill, the catfish inspection program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is likely to once again be the subject of great scrutiny and debate as legislators begin to prepare for the next Farm Bill.

Jurisdiction over the safety and proper regulation of our nation’s food supply is split between the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the USDA overseeing meat and poultry products and the FDA overseeing seafood products, as well as dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Originally included as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, a provision creating a catfish inspection program within the USDA has faced harsh criticism from government watchdog organizations, farm groups, and many in the domestic and international food industries. Opponents have labeled the program as duplicative and wasteful, and have outlined concerns surrounding U.S. World Trade Organization obligations. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Vicki Hartzler (R-MO) were two of the loudest voices of opposition during the two-and-a-half years of negotiations leading up to the passage of the current Farm Bill. As Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), then-Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, was reportedly skeptical of the new jurisdiction given to the USDA, he faced Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), then-Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a fierce supporter of the program. Senator Cochran claimed the program would further protect domestic catfish farming – a major industry in his home state – and enhance food safety, despite a USDA study concluding catfish is a “low-risk food” and a Government Accountability Office study’s findings that the elimination of the USDA-administered program would not affect the safety of catfish. Despite efforts made by legislators intimately involved in the bill’s final negotiations, as well as those made by outside groups lobbying for its removal, legislative language that would have repealed the USDA catfish inspection program was not included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing to closely examine the implications of the USDA-administered catfish inspection program. Titled “Waste and Duplication in the USDA Catfish Inspection Program,” it can be expected that testimonies will reinforce arguments to repeal the authority given to the USDA to oversee the inspection of catfish.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, December 7: The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing titled “1890 “Land-Grant Institutions: Recruitment Challenges and Scholarship Opportunities.”
  • Wednesday, December 7:  The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing titled “Waste and Duplication in the USDA Catfish Inspection Program.”