Senate votes to block USDA catfish inspections

Senate votes to block USDA catfish inspections
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The Senate voted Wednesday to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from inspecting catfish, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle clashed over the program.

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The USDA announced new catfish inspection standards in December, but lawmakers rejected such inspections Wednesday in a 55-43 vote. The measure now goes to the House. 

Under the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers can overturn controversial regulations from the Obama administration with a simple majority. The agency also issued labeling standards for defining catfish, listing the country of origin and including safe-handling instructions for consumers.

The catfish fight divided Republicans — 27 voted to strike down the inspections, while 26 voted to uphold them — with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEsper faces tough questions on dismissal of aircraft carrier's commander Democratic super PAC targets McSally over coronavirus response GOP senator suspending campaign fundraising, donating paycheck amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Ariz.) leading the fight to rollback the inspections.

Democrats were also split, with 27 voting against the catfish inspections and 17 voting to uphold them.

McCain accused the USDA's catfish inspection program of being a veiled attempt to protect southeastern American catfish companies from having to compete with Vietnamese importers. He argued that the USDA is duplicating efforts by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

"A majority of my colleagues on this side of the aisle who call themselves fiscal conservatives have said, ‘Well, we want to keep this duplicative program,’” McCain said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

"That’s fine with me if that’s your view,” he continued. "But then don’t come to the floor and call yourself a fiscal conservative if you’re willing to spend $14 million a year that is not needed and not wanted and is clearly duplicative and is earmarked for a special interest, the catfish industry in southern states.”

Republican Sens. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranEspy wins Mississippi Senate Democratic primary Bottom Line Mike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid MORE and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerBottom Line Stimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE support the USDA inspections as a means of protecting people from possibly eating contaminated catfish. Their home state of Mississippi has a big catfish industry.

"American-produced catfish is inspected by the USDA at a rate of 100 percent,” Wicker said on the Senate floor. "If the resolution passes, that will not go for foreign catfish. How does that make sense?"

"How is that fair to American consumers when we have information that indicates clearly that there are different, less safe procedures overseas that we have in the United States?” he asked.

"Let’s treat all catfish the same,” Wicker added. "We inspect American catfish. Let’s inspect foreign catfish."