John McCain 2

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday filed an amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill that would prohibit any federal funds from being used to operate the newly established Office of Catfish Inspection Programs (OCIP).

The OCIP is the result of a provision included in the 2008 Farm Bill that would transfer regulation of domestic and imported catfish from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

In February, U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday published the much-anticiapted rule for inspecting and grading domestic and imported catfish, including the establishment of the OCIP.

Then in March, McCain and Sen. John Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced legislation that would rescind the provision, saying it’s simply aimed at protecting domestic catfish interests and inhibiting imports of catfish and catfish-like species such as pangasius from entering the U.S. market. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The 90-day public comment period for the rule drew nearly 300 comments submitted by both supporters and opponents. But since the public comment period ended in late June, there’s been no word from the USDA as to when the catfish-inspection program will be officially implemented. It’s now been more than three years since the 2008 Farm Bill was passed.

McCain’s amendment on Tuesday received bipartisan support from an “impressive” list of co-sponsors, including Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Mike Crapo of Idaho, according to NFI spokesman Gavin Gibbons.

McCain’s amendment comes as a relief to U.S. catfish and pangasius importers. In addition to the USDA inspecting fish for the first time, nowhere in the provision or the rule does it specify that the FDA will be relieved of its duties, meaning that two agencies could be responsible for inspecting catfish.

According to a report in The Hill, lawmakers hoped to hold first votes on amendments to the appropriations funding bill on Tuesday and complete work on it before the Senate adjourns for a weeklong recess due to begin on Thursday or Friday.

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