Bait and Switch: The Farm Bill's Expensive and Pointless Catfish Subsidy
5:23 PM, Nov 20, 2013 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
As Congress moves ahead with the farm bill -- legislation that has historically been full of (figurative) pork -- there's one really obvious measure that needs to be eliminated. A new program that will require that catfish be monitored by the Department of Agriculture. Catfish, like all fish consumed by Americans, is already monitored by the Food and Drug Administration. Supposedly, this extra layer of regulation is a matter of food safety. But according to the Heritage Foundation, this doubling up on regulatory oversight is both expensive and unwarranted:
Earlier this year, the duplicative catfish regulations featured prominently in the Government Accountability Office's "2013 Annual Report: Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits." It's also worth noting the GAO has called out these problematic regulations on at least two other occasions. Now the redundant catfish regulations have become an international incident. The New York Times reported last week that Vietnam is threatening to scuttle a major trade deal over the catfish regulations:
It's hard to argue that this isn't a protectionist racket. The retired chief of the FDA’s Seafood Processing and Technology Policy Branch observed, "The inspiration for this rush to spend $30 million (to start) of hard earned taxpayer dollars on a non-existent problem is a group of lobbyists and a trade association representing elements of the American catfish producers." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) were behind an effort to kill the attempt to duplicate catfish inspection at the USDA earlier this year. "But despite our repeated requests, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), have chosen to block a vote," McCain lamented. It will not be surprising to learn that catfish farming is a big concern in Cochran's home state.
It's understandable that politicians in Washington would want to extend protections to bottom-feeders out of professional courtesy. But if lawmakers in D.C. truly want to act in the interests of taxpayers and ensure that the farm bill doesn't live up to its reputation as a vehicle for waste and favor trading, killing these pointless and expensive catfish regulations would be a good start.
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