This week, four members of Congress, Rep. Roybal-Allard, Rep. Hartzler, Rep. Farr and Rep. Pingree, wrote to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting that the Obama Administration defund the wasteful, duplicative U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Catfish Inspection Program in its Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
Under this deeply misguided initiative, responsibility for catfish food safety would shift to USDA while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would retain oversight of all other seafood. As a result, seafood processors would be forced to comply with two different sets of regulations from two different federal agencies, unfairly imposing new costs on small business owners and fragmenting our vulnerable food safety system. The program will also harm relations with key Asian trading partners and could lead to the imposition of World Trade Organization sanctions on U.S. agricultural exports, hurting American farmers.
“The USDA Catfish Inspection Program represents a bad deal for seafood companies in Los Angeles and taxpayers across the country,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. “Unless we act, not only will this initiative continue to waste millions of tax dollars, it will also split seafood inspection responsibilities between two different federal agencies, undermine our food safety system and put consumers at risk. For the sake of everyone who cares about good government and our seafood industry, let’s finally end this misguided program.”
“If this added regulation is not reversed, the USDA will sink millions of dollars on an additional catfish inspection regime while the FDA will continue to inspect all other seafood. This duplication of services will cost taxpayers $30 million initially and $14 million each year thereafter. In a time of limited federal funds, it is imperative that we make wise use of taxpayer dollars – not squander them on duplicative programs,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler.
Please see the text of the letter below.
February 20, 2013
Deputy Director for Management Jeffrey Zients
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503
Dear Deputy Director Zients:
We are writing to express our serious concerns regarding a costly, duplicative regulatory program that we believe should be terminated in the President's 2014 budget. The implementation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Catfish Inspection Program—delayed since 2008—would waste millions of tax dollars, undermine the integrity of our food safety system, and could ultimately lead to the imposition of retaliatory measures sanctioned by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on American agricultural exports.
The USDA Catfish Inspection Program was created in the Conference Report of the 2008 Farm Bill, without prior consideration in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Under this deeply misguided initiative, responsibility for catfish food safety would shift to USDA while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would retain oversight of all other seafood. As a result, seafood processors would be forced to comply with two different sets of regulations from two different federal agencies, unfairly imposing new costs on small business owners and fragmenting our vulnerable food safety system.
This inspection program is also of great concern to agricultural commodity exporters across the country. Foreign catfish will be barred from the U.S. market while USDA negotiates new inspection agreements with exporting countries. Unfortunately, these restrictions could make the United States vulnerable to retaliatory measures against our agricultural exports under the World Trade Organization's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement. Already, on July 31, 2012, the Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., Nguyen Quoc Cuong, sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stating that the program could negatively impact trade with his country.
Recognizing these concerns, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has repeatedly warned of the harmful consequences of implementing the Catfish Inspection Program. In May 2012, GAO issued a report entitled "Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA," which concludes that "if implemented, the catfish inspection program would likely not enhance the safety of catfish but would duplicate FDA and NMFS inspections at a cost to taxpayers."
Earlier, in March 2011, GAO identified the USDA catfish inspection program as duplicative and, in February 2011, GAO reported that the catfish inspection program is at high risk for waste, fraud and abuse by "splitting up seafood oversight and expending scarce resources." Thankfully, in June 2012, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to repeal the program as part of the Senate-passed version of the 2012 Farm Bill.
While we await further congressional action on this critical legislation, we respectfully request that the President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 not include any funding for the USDA Catfish Inspection Program. Doing so would be consistent with Executive Order 13563, "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review," by preventing implementation of a "redundant, inconsistent, [and] overlapping" regulatory program. Furthermore, the $165 million in savings over ten years this sensible decision would generate could be added to the annual Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings volume that accompanies the President’s budget submission. More importantly, this kind of bold action in defense of American seafood processors, farmers, and taxpayers would demonstrate a meaningful commitment to the goal we all share—making the federal government more efficient and accountable to the American people.
Thank you for considering this request.