agriculture icon, source: Art Explosion

Agriculture: Catfish Inspection

Repealing provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill that assigned the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service responsibility for examining and inspecting catfish and for creating a catfish inspection program may avoid duplication of federal programs and save taxpayers almost $3 million dollars annually. However, in the 2014 Farm Bill Congress reaffirmed its decision, and in April 2016, the Food Safety and Inspection Service assumed full responsibility for the inspection of catfish after coordinating the transfer with the Food and Drug Administration. GAO is reviewing the coordination between the two agencies and the extent to which they are leveraging each other’s resources to ensure the safety of imported seafood, including catfish.

Action:

Congress should consider repealing provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill assigning the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsibility for examining and inspecting catfish and for creating a catfish inspection program.

Progress:

Congress has not repealed provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill assigning USDA responsibility for catfish inspection, as recommended in GAO’s May 2012 report. Rather, in the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress reaffirmed its commitment to assigning USDA this responsibility. In addition, Congress required USDA to coordinate with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to execute a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would, among other things, ensure that inspections of catfish conducted by USDA and FDA are not duplicative and provided USDA a timeline for issuing final program regulations and implementing the program.
    
In April 2014, FDA and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) signed an MOU to improve interagency cooperation on food safety and fraud prevention and to maximize the effectiveness of personnel and resources related to the examination and inspection of catfish. Specifically, FSIS agreed to assume primary regulatory oversight over catfish and inform FDA if an apparent violation was encountered involving fish and fish products other than catfish. FDA agreed, in part, not to inspect catfish at domestic and foreign establishments unless requested by FSIS and not to sample or analyze catfish bearing an official USDA inspection legend or official USDA import mark, unless requested by FSIS. In December 2015, FSIS issued the final rule for the catfish inspection program and significantly reduced its 2011 estimate of the program’s annual cost to the government from about $14 million to about $2.6 million. USDA indicated in its recent budget documents that it will not know the actual cost of its catfish inspection program until the program is fully implemented. In March 2016, FSIS assumed responsibility for the inspection of all catfish. FDA ceased all domestic regulatory activities involving catfish and also ceased inspections of foreign catfish processors. FDA discontinued screening catfish imports in April 2016 when FSIS assumed that task. Implementation of the catfish inspection program will be phased in, with full implementation scheduled for September 2017.

In January 2016, GAO began work examining FDA oversight of imported seafood and FSIS oversight of catfish imports. As part of this work, GAO will review the coordination and cooperation between FDA and FSIS and the extent to which these agencies are leveraging each other’s resources to more effectively conduct their imported seafood oversight programs. While FSIS has begun to implement the catfish inspection program and FSIS and FDA have begun to implement provisions of the 2014 MOU, facilities that process both catfish and other seafood may potentially still be inspected by both FSIS and FDA.

  • portrait of
    • Steve D. Morris
    • Director, Natural Resources and Environment
    • morriss@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-3841