- The congressional debate over the evolving U.S. catfish inspection program continues as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) weighs whether to vote on which government agency will handle the inspection process.
- A rule finalized last December by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transferred the catfish inspection program to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) earlier this year.
- Legislators are concerned about costs. They anticipate the new USDA program will cost about $2.5 million annually, about a $1.4 million increase over the FDA's program. But the Catfish Farmers of America is battling to retain the USDA's program because it was previously easier for adulterated foreign-raised catfish to enter the U.S. market.
This debate somewhat parallels the one that is ongoing in the rest of the food industry over more inspections and a higher level of federal scrutiny as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The catfish industry seems less concerned about the costs or inspections themselves, after losing market share to foreign-raised products.
Increased regulations and inspection requirements under FSMA could lead to more recalls. But ultimately if the food supply is safer, those recalls could slow down, which means manufacturers could save money, reputation and consumer trust due to a decline in recalls.
The same could be said about the catfish inspection program. If processors bear the additional costs of the new program, they could potentially boost sales and market share as they win back what they lost to foreign suppliers. In both cases, it's about weighing the costs of increased regulations and inspections with the benefit of better sales, a safer food supply, higher consumer confidence and greater market share potential.
But ultimately, this decision is not up to the industry. Any change will take some time to go into effect. The new president and Congress could also reverse the OMB's decision, depending on their perception of costs and burden on foreign and domestic catfish processors.