The Western Farm Press recently asked in a headline, when does trade and commerce trump food safety? and then linked to a story about the now infamous catfish provision from the 2008 Farm Bill. Cavalierly linking to a Beltway write-up on this wasteful, duplicative inspection program in a manner that suggests Western growers and agribusinesses in the region might consider supporting the provision exposes an unfortunate lack of understanding.
For starters the 2008 catfish provision is a fake food safety scare designed to benefit domestic catfish producers by regulating their competition out of the market. Switching “catfish” inspection from FDA to USDA and then falsely calling imports, like the pangasius fish, “catfish,” erects a trade barrier but doesn’t make the food any safer.
And who bears the brunt of the trade fallout from such a move? The very growers and agribusinesses who read this publication, that’s who.
A literal who’s who from the agricultural world has spoken out strongly against the catfish provision in correspondence directly with the USDA. Opponents include American Soybean Association, Cargill, Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Hormel Foods, National Council of Farmer Coops, National Meat Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Restaurant Association, National Turkey Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Smithfield Foods, United States Dairy Export Council, United States Grains Council, United States Meat Export Federation, USA Poultry and Egg Export Council and of course the Western Growers Association.
So let’s answer the question posed by that headline-- When does trade and commerce trump food safety? It doesn’t because this provision has never been about food safety; it has always been about a campaign to unnecessarily exclude imports from the market, a strategy that would ultimately restrict U.S. agricultural exports to growing foreign markets.