McCain, Shaheen ask USTR to support stripping USDA of catfish authority
News 23/03/2018 - Nguyễn Trí Tín
US senator John McCain is still leading the fight to move catfish inspections out of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and back to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), even as he battles a brain tumor.
The Arizona Republican and senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, asked Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, in a letter sent Monday, to support repeal of the USDA catfish inspection program. They note Vietnam’s recent legal challenge at the World Trade Organization and how it could negatively impact US agriculture exports to the Southeast Asian nation, including cotton, wheat, pork, soybeans, beef, poultry, eggs and fruit.
“Vietnam is one of our largest Asian trading partners and our 10th largest agricultural export market,” the two lawmakers write. “Additionally, more than 525,000 American jobs directly rely on imported seafood, as domestic fisheries cannot produce enough sustainable seafood to meet the needs of American consumers.”
Since USDA took over catfish inspections in August, the US importers of Vietnamese pangasius, which falls under the same USDA umbrella as catfish because it is also a siluriforme, have dealt with multiple disruptions.
McCain, who has been recovering from cancer treatment in Arizona since leaving Washington in December, has fought USDA taking over catfish inspections since at least 2001, years before it was required by the 2008 and 2014 farm bills. Critics, including the National Fisheries Institute, say the program is an unnecessary expense, as FDA handles all other seafood-related inspection duties.
Lighthizer himself doesn’t have enough power to take the authority away from USDA. That would require another act of Congress.
It could happen, however. Congress was able to repeal USDA’s country of origin labeling program in late December 2016 following a WTO decision that determined it was an unfair trade practice, including the change in an omnibus budget bill.
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