By Stephanie R. Ostrowski, DVM, MPVM, DACVPM

U.S. catfish farmers have been struggling for years to compete with growing imports from countries like Vietnam, China, and Thailand. At a recent Congressional hearing on the program, however, only one legislator defended Congress’ decision earlier this year to take catfish inspection away from the Food and Drug Administration and give it to U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rep. Gregg Harper, a Republican from the catfish-producing state of Mississippi, praised the USDA catfish inspection program. “Overwhelming evidence suggests that imported catfish … represent a significant food safety threat to the American people,” Harper said during the hearing. “Unfortunately, the FDA inspection system was inadequate and it conducted inspections on a mere 0.2 percent of catfish species.”

Harper stressed that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service already has been extremely successful in blocking thousands of pounds of foreign catfish contaminated with illegal antibiotics and other drugs. Since FSIS began inspecting imported catfish on April 15, about 343,000 pounds of foreign catfish has either been rejected at the border or removed from commerce in the U.S., according to industry and government officials.

Congress took inspection authority for catfish away from the FDA and gave it to the USDA through provisions in the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills. The switch was seen as a boon for domestic catfish farmers who have been struggling for years to compete with growing imports from the Far East. Proponents of the switch said USDA would do a more thorough job of inspecting imports and holding foreign producers to the same standards as their U.S. counterparts.

Other members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee sharply criticized the change in catfish inspection as a waste of money and resources.  READ MORE