Southern lawmakers fight to keep USDA catfish inspections

Southern lawmakers fight to keep USDA catfish inspections
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House lawmakers from the South are urging their colleagues to leave in place a Department of Agriculture inspection program for imported catfish.

“The most basic function of our government is to protect our citizens and we have a moral obligation to prevent harmful food from entering the U.S. food supply, which is why we can’t go back to the old FDA inspection,” Rep. Rick CrawfordRichard (Rick) CrawfordThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry House Republicans add Jordan to Intel panel for impeachment probe Republican Congressman: DNI Nominee committed to declassification transparency MORE (R-Ark.) said.

Crawford and other lawmakers are fighting a resolution that would shift the responsibility for inspections back to the Food and Drug Administration.

Under FDA’s purview, they claim only 2 percent of catfish imports were being inspected compared to 100 percent under the USDA program, which began in March. 

The inspection change was part of the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills.

Crawford held a press conference Wednesday with Reps. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellHouse to take up voting rights, government funding this month Democrats ramp up oversight efforts over 'opportunity zone' incentive Sunday shows - Next impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Ala.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Ralph Abraham (R-La.) and Trent Kelly (R-Mo.) to call on members to reject the resolution for FDA inspections, which passed the Senate last month.

Their fight comes a day after a U.S. seafood company recalled 25,760 pounds of frozen fish fillets from Vietnam that were distributed without first meeting food safety requirements.  

“We’re not talking about a salmonella outbreak or an outbreak of E. coli or something of that nature,” Crawford said. “We’re talking about concerns that we deal with regarding banned carcinogens, which is why the American Cancer Institute supports the USDA’s 100 percent inspection program.”

But supporters of the resolution argue the USDA program is too expensive. 

The Government Accountability Office estimated it would cost around $14 million, but Crawford said now that USDA has implemented the program costs are only estimated to be about $1.1 million.

“Yes we’re probably going to spend an additional $350,000 over the course of the year, however, we will achieve a 100 percent inspection rate so we’re 98 percent more efficient in the process of inspecting these imported products,” he said, comparing the cost of USDA’s program to the $750,000 FDA spent annually. “We think that is a much greater value to the taxpayer.”

In a statement to The Hill, the National Fisheries Institute downplayed the most recent catfish recall, saying it was due to a distribution error.

NFI Spokesman Gavin Gibbons said everyone is learning the new USDA process and product was disseminated before a review was completed.

“There is no active food safety concern associate with the product,” he said. “Also keep in mind, we are talking about 26,000 pounds of Swai. In 2016 alone USDA has recalled 54,061,256 pounds of poultry, meat and pork that had already been approved by USDA inspectors.”