Warner, Kaine on Senate vote to repeal USDA catfish inspection program

congressU.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following joint statement today after the Senate voted 55-43 to repeal a wasteful and duplicative USDA catfish inspection program that is harmful to Virginia seafood producers.

“The catfish inspection program is a waste of taxpayer dollars. This unnecessary, duplicative program offers no benefits for safety or consumer health, and simply creates extra burdens for Virginia seafood processors and producers, who are now forced to report separately to two separate federal agencies – one to inspect catfish, and one to inspect all other types of fish. It also undermines Virginia’s efforts to employ market-based solutions to reduce the population of blue catfish, which is an invasive species that poses a long-term threat to Virginia’s fishery resources. We applaud the Senate for finally moving forward to repeal this duplicative, wasteful program, and urge the House of Representatives to act quickly on this resolution of disapproval.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary inspector of all foreign and domestic fish products. But a provision tucked into the 2008 farm bill designed to privilege Mississippi Delta catfish farmers required USDA, which inspects meat and poultry products, to set up a separate program for the sole purpose of inspecting catfish. The resulting USDA catfish inspection rule, which began to take effect in March of this year, requires seafood companies that handle catfish as well as other types of seafood to have two federal agencies inspect their operation: USDA, to look at catfish, and the FDA, to inspect all other fish.

Ten separate Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports have called for the wasteful and duplicative program to be repealed, estimating its cost at $30 million to start and $14 million annually to operate, as compared with $700,000 a yearfor the original FDA inspection program. Budget experts estimate that repealing the program will save $170 million over the next decade, and several major taxpayer, government waste, and consumer groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense, US PIRG, Citizens Against Government Waste, and Taxpayer Protection Alliance, support repeal. The Obama Administration has also identified the catfish inspection program as duplicative and unnecessary, and has repeatedly called on Congress to defund the program so that taxpayer resources can be directed toward areas of actual risk.

“The Virginia Seafood Council and its members companies are grateful for the work Senator Warner and Senator Kaine have done to support passage of S.J. Res. 28, rejecting onerous inspections requirements for catfish. If this regulation were allowed to stand the result would have been significant jobs loss in the fishing industry and the elimination of numerous small businesses in Virginia,” said Don Davis, Executive Director of the Virginia Seafood Council. “Senator Warner and Senator Kaine are to be commended for their efforts to protect the industry in in our state.”

In addition, the inspection program jeopardizes Virginia’s market-based efforts to address the invasive blue catfish. Over the last ten years, the Commonwealth has encouraged the development of an active blue catfish fishery and market to reduce the rate of growth of catfish numbers and provide jobs for Virginia watermen and seafood processors. Recently, the market for wild-caught blue catfish (as opposed to farm-raised blue catfish) has increased significantly, and there are now more than 30 seafood buyers in Virginia alone that purchase wild-caught blue catfish, harvested primarily from Virginia’s waters. However, the USDA catfish inspection program does not distinguish between wild-caught and farm-raised catfish. The program requires an inspector to be on premises during “slaughter,” and “slaughters” must be scheduled 24 hours in advance, despite the fact that fish landings do not occur on such regular schedules. The program would also impose significant financial burdens on all but the largest seafood processors.

Several bipartisan attempts to repeal the catfish inspection program have previously failed. Today’s vote occurred after Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with a bipartisan group of colleagues, introduced a repeal resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which allows new regulations to be overturned through a joint resolution of disapproval passed by both the House and the Senate. Now, the House must act on the resolution in order to permanently repeal the catfish inspection program.

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