U.S. Sens. John McCain and John Kerry on Thursday took to the Senate floor to pick apart the Farm Bill, including the effort to transfer regulation of catfish from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Late last week, McCain and Kerry filed an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill that would eliminate the USDA catfish inspection program, signed into law as part of the 2008 Farm Bill but still in the process of being implemented. The McCain-Kerry amendment comes as a relief to U.S. catfish and pangasius importers, who say the program is simply a protectionist measure that would curb the flow of product into the U.S. market.

“Finally, Mr. President, one of my favorites of all time is the catfish. I have an amendment that will repeal a Farm Bill provision that directs the USDA to create a new fat catfish inspection office. The amendment puts an end to the latest attempt by Southern catfish farmers to restrict catfish imports,” said McCain from the Senate floor.

“The USDA inspects meat, eggs and poultry but not seafood. That’s a whole new government office that is being developed at USDA just to inspect catfish,” he continued. “Catfish farmers have tried to argue that we need a catfish inspection office to ensure Americans are eating safe and healthy catfish. I wholeheartedly agree that catfish should be safe for consumers. The problem is FDA already inspects catfish just as it does all seafood, screening for biological and chemical hazards. If there were legitimate food-safety reasons for having the USDA inspect catfish, we would be having this discussion.”

“The catfish office offers no legitimate food-safety benefit. It’s true goal is to erect trade barriers on Asian catfish imports to prop up the domestic catfish industry and make American consumers pay more,” he concluded.

 

Later in the day, Kerry had his say on the Senate floor. “It serves no public interest, it’s costly for taxpayers, it’s duplicative ... and, as a result, will invite trade retaliation and put us in a train wreck of regulatory conflict,” he said.  “Let Americans ... decide what they want to consume.” 

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