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Filet the Catfish Inspection Program

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

By Rep. Marlin Stutzman and Rep. Vicky Hartzler

With the national debt fast approaching $16 trillion, the American taxpayers are tired of paying for Washington's duplicative and wasteful programs. As freshmen representatives who were sent to Washington to save tax dollars, we have introduced legislation to eliminate the unnecessary transfer of catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which would create dual inspection efforts in seafood processing facilities. According to the Government Accountability Office, this unnecessary transfer would cost taxpayers $30 million in start-up costs and at least $14 million every year thereafter. This is a prime example of the wasteful spending in Washington that has to stop.

This unneeded inspection provision was added late in the 2008 Farm Bill process without the full consideration of either the House or Senate. Under this convoluted regulatory structure, federal inspection of catfish would be transferred from the FDA to the USDA. This makes no sense as the FDA already inspects all commercial seafood while the USDA only inspects meat and poultry products. This unneeded transfer of duties requires spending precious tax dollars to hire an additional 90 full-time inspectors to duplicate efforts fully covered by the FDA inspection program. Millions of tax dollars would be wasted if the USDA's program is not repealed.

If this added regulation is not reversed, the USDA will sink millions of dollars on an additional catfish inspection regime while the FDA will continue to inspect tilapia, shrimp, and all other seafood. Both the departments would be required to employ experts in seafood inspection -- a duplication of services whose cost will be borne by taxpayers and businesses. Seafood companies often process multiple species of seafood on the same line and would be forced to meet requirements from both agencies.

We realize that tackling real problems takes work, but regulation for regulation's sake is the epitome of waste. The most recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled, "Seafood Safety: Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA," clearly states that "the agency's (USDA) proposed catfish inspection program further fragments the federal oversight system for food safety without demonstrating that there is a problem with catfish or a need for a new federal program." The GAO recognizes there is absolutely no known public health benefit gleaned for creating an entirely new program to replace the FDA's inspection regime and concludes, "Congress should consider repealing provisions of the Farm Bill assigning USDA responsibility for catfish inspection."

If Washington needs another reason to stop frittering away tax dollars, it should consider this. The new catfish inspection program could provoke a trade war that would put U.S. agriculture exports at risk. Current rules at the World Trade Organization require science-based standards behind food safety laws that can be used as barriers to imports. Countries that export catfish products would likely win a suit against the United States and enact retributive trade tariffs on American products like soybeans and beef. Adding costs through duplicative programs is wasteful; risking harm to our agriculture exporters while they work to decrease our trade deficit is foolish.

We find ballooning costs with no benefit and the risk of a trade war unacceptable. The facts point to a simple conclusion. Wasting tax dollars for this unnecessary program is short-sighted and must be stopped. It's time to filet the duplicative USDA Catfish Inspection Program.

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