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Policy

Catfish-barreling: Just the zingers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates catfish, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all other types of fish. There’s no real scientific reason for this—it was just folded into the 2008 Farm Bill, when catfish farmers with political clout proclaimed it so.

We wrote a backgrounder here, but all you need to know is that Republicans are trying to return catfish regulation to FDA. The bottom feeders have been under USDA purview for only about five minutes, as it took three years to write the damn rules after the 2008 bill and another four to finalize them. And the USDA catfish regulation program cost a whopping $20 million before it even got off the ground. Which is why we don’t usually shift the regulation of a single species from one agency to another. Anyway….

This is a follow-up to a backgrounder we wrote on catfish regulation. Read the original story here.

Back in May, the Senate passed a measure to return regulation to FDA. But since then, it’s been languishing in the House. Politico’s Morning Ag reports that it’s not likely to be brought up for a vote during this session because no one wants to stir the pot.

But that doesn’t mean no one is trying to get members of the House to pay attention. The always-indispensable Seafood News published a transcript (paywall) of Kim Gorton’s testimony in front of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. The CEO of Slade Gorton Col, a Boston-based seafood company, called the Great Catfish Transfer  “poorly thought out,” and dismissed claims that USDA-regulated catfish are safer. “You are more likely to get struck by lightning than get sick from catfish.” Zing!

But Gorton also went so far as to imply that the catfish kerfuffle will jeopardize other U.S. trade deals by straining relationships with trade partners. “Why Congress is sacrificing the exports interests of soy, beef, apples, and other farmed products on the altar of catfish is a puzzle to me,” she told committee members. We at NFE are wondering if whoever’s planning our holiday party could rig up a catfish altar…

H. Claire Brown

A North Carolina native, Claire Brown joins The New Food Economy after working on the editorial team at Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. She won the New York Press Club's Nellie Bly Cub Reporter award in 2017. Follow her at @hclaire_brown.