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$20M Wasted? Two U.S. Agencies Tasked With Inspecting Catfish
Dick Stevens is a catfish legend in Mississippi.
President and CEO of Consolidate Catfish, Stevens owns one of the
biggest catfish processors in the U.S. — in one day, he handles
400,000 pounds of fish.
He is also one of the driving forces for getting the U.S. Department
of Agriculture to inspect catfish grown in the U.S. and imported.
Critics call that a huge waste of millions of American tax dollars
because that means two agencies are charged with inspecting catfish —
the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration.
While the USDA inspects meat, seafood inspections have been conducted
by the FDA.
Weigh in on this story on Diane Sawyer’s Facebook page.
Though Stevens told ABC News he didn’t want two U.S. agencies looking
at the same food, there have been concerns in the past about whether
the inspection of imported fish has been adequate.
“We would say this is a food-safety concern,” Stevens said.
“We felt like we needed to do something to improve our marketing in
the catfish industry. We felt like consumer confidence has been shaken
a little bit, with some of the products that were adulterated,”
Stevens said. “We felt like our market was going away because people
were worried about the safety of the product.”
Stevens said the industry reached out to the USDA’s Agriculture
Marketing Services, even though the FDA already handled inspections,
which he called “nonexistent.”
“FDA will probably come through here once a year and then it will be
more of a paperwork check,” he said. “Now our particular company is
inspected by the Department of Commerce.”
Yet while the USDA has spent $20 million to plan inspections, it
hasn’t inspected a single fish in five years.
“Twenty million dollars would be a drop in the bucket compared to what
the bureaucrats waste every day,” he said. “But if it brings consumer
confidence and it brings food safety to Americans, then it is well
David Acheson, a top U.S. food-safety expert as well as a former FDA
and USDA official, said there was little to worry about regarding
catfish safety and the FDA should continue to be in charge of
“A catfish is a catfish is a catfish,” Acheson said. “It’s a safe
food. … We shouldn’t have two agencies inspecting the same fish.”
Acheson said that in 2008, Congress decided that catfish should be the
“The reason that was put out there publicly is because Congress deemed
catfish was a high-risk food product. … But it isn’t,” he said. “The
catfish farmers in the South, they’ve taken a hit economically because
of low-cost imports. … We can certainly build an argument that the
reason behind this was essentially a lobby that said what can we do to
help protect the domestic catfish business.”
Acheson said the law requiring two agencies to inspect catfish had
little to do with what ends up on consumers’ plates.
“It certainly isn’t public health,” he said. “It’s about politics.”
The law would make it more expensive for importers to do business.
Importers have already grabbed 25 percent of the market and are the
main competitors of American catfish growers.
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who is responsible for adding the catfish
law written into a farm bill, declined a request for an ABC News
“I can understand the business pressures to try to protect the
industry to try to protect jobs, protect their employees,” Acheson
said. “At the end of the day here, put the energies and the resources
and the efforts where we’ve got risk and this is just not it.”
ABC News’ Daniel Steinberger contributed to this story.
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