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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

By Mr. McCAIN (for himself and Mr. Coburn):

S. 496. A bill to amend the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act to repeal a duplicative program relating to inspection and grading of catfish; to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

Sen. John McCain

legislator photo

Mr. President, I am pleased to be joined by my colleague, Senator Coburn, in introducing legislation to repeal duplicative federal regulations relating to the inspection and grading of catfish. Specifically, our bill would rescind a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill, Section 11016 of P.L. 110-246, which aims to inhibit Vietnamese catfish imports as well as catfish imports of other potential trade partners.

Section 11016 is nothing more than the latest effort by Members of Congress serving the special interests of the catfish industry in their home States. A similar protectionist tactic was tried in the 2002 Farm Bill when many of these same members slipped in language that made it illegal to label Vietnamese catfish, ``pangasius,'' as catfish in U.S. retail markets. The intent there was to discourage American consumers from buying Vietnamese catfish products even though they are virtually indistinguishable from U.S. grown catfish. It didn't work. Vietnamese catfish remain popular with American consumers because it is more affordable and cheaper to produce than domestic catfish grown in aquaculture ponds. Now these special interests are relying on this latest Farm Bill rider to over regulate Vietnamese catfish by, ironically, deeming pangasius a catfish again. Under the guise of food safety, the 2008 Farm Bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service, FSIS, to inspect catfish like it does meat products or eggs, except that no other fish is under the regulatory thumb of the FSIS. Catfish is already regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, which hasn't reported any safety or health problems with the Vietnamese imports. Domestic producers are simply trying to create barriers for Vietnamese catfish farmers by forcing them to comply with a second inspection regime administered by an entirely different arm of the Federal bureaucracy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, is currently engaged in the proposed rulemaking process for implementing this new inspection authority. A recent Government Accountability Office, GAO, report flagged this FSIS program as ``duplicative'' and ``high risk'' for ``fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.'' GAO estimates that the USDA would spend about $30 million in taxpayer dollars to implement the agency's new catfish inspection program and that we would be further fragmenting our federal food safety system by having catfish regulated twice by both USDA and FDA.

The provision that I am seeking to repeal is nothing more than a protectionist tactic funded at taxpayers' expense. If implemented, the proposed USDA regulations will lead to a duplicative, costly and complex overseas inspection program that serves no real purpose but to protect American catfish growers from competition while forcing American consumers to pay more for fish. Not only is the catfish provision in Section 11016 offensive to our principles of free trade, it flagrantly disregards our Bilateral Trade Agreement and relationship with Vietnam. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.