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US Senate takes aim at catfish inspection authority

Released at: 21:09, 26/05/2016

US Senate takes aim at catfish inspection authority

Photo: Thanh Duc

Senate passes Resolution aimed at disbanding wasteful and duplicative catfish inspection office at US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

by Ha Nguyen

The US Senate passed a Resolution of Disapproval on May 25, nullifying a federal rule that created a wasteful and duplicative catfish inspection office at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), called the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

This will benefit catfish exporters like Vietnam in supplying the US market, according to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP). The Resolution was backed by Senators John McCain, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte.

The program costs taxpayers approximately $14 million a year, saddles American businesses with heavy, duplicative regulation, and exposes the US economy to a lawsuit at the WTO.

“The USDA catfish inspection office is an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars and a classic example of anti-free market protectionism,” Senator McCain said a statement. “This office, which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has repeatedly labeled as ‘wasteful and duplicative’, serves no other purpose than to benefit a handful of special-interest domestic catfish farmers in southern states at American consumers’ expense. It’s past time we finally send this duplicative, big government program out to sea.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has traditionally been tasked with oversight of all fish, including catfish. However, a provision included in the 2008 Farm Bill removed FDA oversight on catfish, transferring inspection responsibilities to FSIS.

The switch saw seafood companies that handle catfish and other seafood products subject to redundant and inefficient regulations from both FDA and FSIS.

In ten separate GAO reports from 2011 to 2016 it identified USDA’s catfish inspection program as duplicative and wasteful and consequently called for its elimination. Astoundingly, FSIS has spent $20 million in taxpayer dollars without inspecting a single catfish. Over the next decade its catfish oversight would cost American taxpayers $170 million, performing the same job the FDA fulfills for $7 million.

According to Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), total exports of agriculture, forestry and seafood products in May were valued at $2.32 billion, bringing total export turnover in the first five months of the year to $12.18 billion, an increase of 4.9 per cent year-on-year.

The US remains Vietnam’s largest market for catfish, worth $115.1 million from January to April this year, an increase of 7.2 per cent year-on-year, figures from Vietnam Customs show.

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