Wednesday Waste: Duplicate Catfish Inspection Programs

June 6, 2012

Smell something fishy? It’s probably a component of the 2008 hotly contested Farm Bill that implements a new catfish inspection program. To start this new program, it would cost taxpayers $30 million up front and more over time, all to do a job the Food and Drug Administration is currently doing. Congress is considering overturning the measure.

So, why all the fuss about catfish? In 2008, large catfish processors lobbied Congress to have inspections of imported catfish shifted from the FDA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The domestic catfish producers hoped that by tightening import restrictions, they wouldn’t have to compete against catfish competitors from Vietnam and other countries.  The USDA has acknowledged catfish as a “low-risk food” in terms of safety, and supporters of this measure have no scientific evidence of a health threat from the fish.

A 2011 GAO report on duplication and overlap in government programs cited the catfish program as an example of fragmentation in food safety oversight. Moving catfish inspection to the USDA while the FDA inspects all other seafood makes no sense and would incur needless additional costs. David Acheson, former FDA Food Safety Czar, called the program “everything that’s wrong about the food-safety system. It’s food politics. It’s not public health.” The catfish program is simply another case of special interest groups securing protectionist policies from Washington, all at taxpayers’ expense.

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