By Casey Wooten
July 7 — More House lawmakers are joining the call for the chamber to take up legislation rolling back Agriculture Department inspections of imported catfish.
The House coalition, led by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), reeled in 34 additional members since it first sent a letter to the leadership in mid-June asking them to take up a resolution passed in the Senate May 25. That measure (S. J. Res. 28), a joint resolution of disapproval, would use the Congressional Review Act to roll back an Agriculture Department rule transferring oversight of inspection for catfish and its imported Asian cousin, pangasius, from the Food and Drug Administration to the USDA, along with implementing stricter standards (See previous story, 05/26/16).
Hartzler and other supporters now total 203 in the House, up from 169 in mid-June, according to an updated letter sent to the House leadership on July 7.
“There is no doubt as to why we are seeing continued and growing support for eliminating this program,” Hartzler said in a statement. “The facts are clear; the taxpayers have been put on the hook for an unnecessary and wasteful program that was dropped in the Farm Bill Conference Report at the last minute, without a vote, to protect special interests.”
The increase adds pressure on House leadership to hold a vote on the resolution, though House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hasn't publicly said whether he would take it up.
Opponents of USDA inspection argue that the stepped-up inspections are wasteful and amount to protectionism for U.S. catfish farmers.
Those who back the USDA inspection rule—including many lawmakers from Southern states, where most U.S. catfish farms are located—point to recent incidents in which inspectors found contaminants in catfish imports coming from Asia.
“This issue is about food safety,” Ben Noble, spokesman for Catfish Farmers of America, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail. “USDA has rejected 46,200 pounds of contaminated imported catfish in the last two months alone. It raises serious questions when importers continue to play a game of hide-and-seek by stating this is anything other than what it is, a food safety issue.”
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Text of the updated letter is available at http://tinyurl.com/hdgde64.
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