Good news for Vietnamese catfish farmers as U.S. Senate votes to end inspections

By    May 27, 2016 | 12:02 pm GMT+7

The upper house of the U.S. Congress voted on Wednesday to stop the Department of Agriculture (USDA) from inspecting both domestic and foreign catfish.

The lawmakers approved to scrap the inspection program, which critics have argued is wasteful and unnecessary, in a 55-43 vote.

If the House of Representatives agrees and Obama signs on, catfish will likely return to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where only 1 to 2 percent of seafood imports are inspected due to budget restrictions.

Critics argued that the USDA, which took over safety oversight of catfish from the FDA under the 2008 Farm Bill, is duplicating work already done by the FDA. However, the USDA delayed putting the program into place for several years so the inspections did not start until April this year. 

Inspections conducted by the USDA are projected to cost $14 million annually, while the FDA spends less than $700,000 per year to inspect catfish. The USDA is reported to have already spent $20 million on the program's development since the 2008 Farm Bill became law.

The vote followed President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to Vietnam, a major exporter of catfish to the United States.

Senator John McCain, who supports the rollback, accused the USDA’s catfish inspection program of being an attempt to protect American catfish companies from having to compete with Vietnamese exporters.

Meanwhile, supporters of the program argue the inspections are a necessary precaution against potentially tainted imports.

The USDA has already found illegal drug residue such as carcinogens and antibiotics in some fish shipments from Asian countries.

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