U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today received word that the U.S. Department of Agriculture could complete a final rule for implementing a catfish inspection program by this October.
Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, today told Cochran that the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is committed to issuing a final rule on the catfish inspection program by Oct. 1, the end of the fiscal year. Cochran raised the inspection issue at a Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday to review FY2014 budget requests for agencies within the USDA.
"I appreciate the good efforts of Dr. Hagen and her agency, and look forward to seeing some progress on this program," Cochran said. "The catfish industry is important in some Deep South states. There is concern that not much has been done even though Congress has authorized the Food Safety and Inspection Service to inspect and grade catfish supplies to ensure they are safe to eat."
Responding to a Cochran question, Hagen testified that she is committed to the FSIS issuing a final rule this year.
"I understand the frustration with the delay. I think it has turned out to be more complicated than we thought it would be. I am committed to trying to get this out, getting a final rule out, by the end of the fiscal year," said Hagen, adding that "Sometimes there are pieces of that timetable that we don't control, but our staff knows that this is a priority."
The 2008 Farm Bill authorized the USDA to implement a program to inspect and grade foreign and domestic catfish in the manner that it inspects other domestic and imported livestock raised on land-locked farms. However, the program has been stymied by difficulty within the USDA in setting a scientific definition for catfish and related fish.
Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified that in addition to defining catfish, international trade and other domestic issues have complicated the launch of the USDA program.