The new five-year farm bill the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate compromised on this week failed to cut out the U.S. catfish inspection program, putting a barrier on catfish imports into the United States.
As written into the 2008 Farm Bill, the $14 million per year program would assign inspection of catfish imports to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a rung of the inspection chain that could pose serious threats to imports.
Undercurrent News, in a report written from the perspective of exporters of catfish into the United States, blamed Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran for getting a repeal of the USDA inspection requirement scratched from the Farm Bill.
Cochran and producers of farm-raised catfish in the United States claim the current inspections of Southeast Asian grown pangasius – sold in the U.S. as catfish — are inadequate and infrequent. Cochran insists inspections must be stepped up to protect the health of U.S. seafood consumers.
Catfish producers in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South have complained about U.S. trade policy that allows the dumping of low-cost pangasius on the U.S. market, thus crippling the ability of domestic producers to compete on price. The U.S. producers won a recent victory through a federal decision allowing the price of imported pangasius to be tied to the prices fetched by producers in the Philippines, rather than Bangladesh. Bench marking the import price to the higher priced Philippine pangasius will give at least some competitive relief, domestic industry officials say.
Congress in 2008 handed the USDA authority to take over the inspections of imported seafood but the agency has been awaiting final rules from Congress on conducting the inspections.
In reaction to the decision, QVD Aquaculture CEO Chris December had harsh words for the U.S. Congress.
“I find the entire decision by our government just another signal that reinforces the lack of the courage and direction our country is taking,” said December, who sells pangasius from Vietnam.
Although it has not yet been implemented, the inspectionprogram’s inclusion in this new Farm Bill makes its implementation all the more likely, which poses risks to the imports of pangasius, exporters say.