U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today once again pressed the Secretary of Agriculture to explain why a catfish inspection program authorized five years ago has not been implemented.
Cochran, who has been fighting to ensure a fair and level playing field for U.S. catfish producers, raised the issue again with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the FY2014 budget requests for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"A lot of the aquaculture producers in Mississippi and around the country believe this law has not been aggressively implemented. They are frustrated and they want to know if the USDA has a plan to try to put action behind the words in the Farm Bill law," Cochran said.
"Regulations for this program were supposed to be released 18 months after enactment of the law in 2008," he said. "This program is crucial to ensuring food safety. We have seen many instances of imported catfish shipments not meeting the safety standards in place for other imported and domestically-raised products."
Cochran was the leading proponent of provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill that required the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service to create 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.
Vilsack said he understands the frustration of U.S. catfish producers, but committed to continuing to work on the catfish inspection program. He indicated that implementation of the inspection regimen has been complicated over the scientific definition of catfish.
"It is not as simple as, at first blush, it would appear," Vilsack said. "We are obviously working on this. In the meantime obviously, the fish are being inspected by the FDA. But I am going to commit to you that we are going to continue to work on this. And we understand the frustration, but it is complex from scientific standpoint and it obviously has significant implications domestically and from a trade standpoint."
Cochran has been critical of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) inability to effectively carryout foreign fish inspections. A 2001 Government Accountability Office report indicated that the FDA lacks the capability to inspect more than 2 percent of all imported fish (http://1.usa.gov/WsXxNG).