Stopping The Spin

Rhetoric or Reality?

It would appear there are few things special-interest catfish lobbyists would not say in order to convince people on Capitol Hill that their wasteful, duplicative program is anything but. In this case they have abandoned efforts to spin half-truths and quasi-science and elected for bold face deception. In news outlets across the South you’ll find Letters to the Editor signed by the various Catfish Farmers of the Year, like Shorty Jones from Mississippi, that claim the USDA has spent zero dollars on the catfish inspection program. It’s not too hard to establish that such a claim is untrue when you look at the GAO’s report titled “Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA.” It notes (on page 20 of the report, 24 of the PDF) the department has spent somewhere near $19.8 million on the program or the USDA’s FY 2011 Explanatory Notes (Page 21-29 & 21-30) that put the number at closer to $24 million. Claims that zero dollars have been spent go far beyond typical hyperbole and land squarely in the camp of dishonesty.

Are special interest catfish lobbyists shopping spin over substance on the Hill?

Special interest lobbyists first argued that catfish and their imported competition (pangasius) were not the same fish—then they decided they were the same fish. Special interest lobbyists argued catfish regulation was a food safety issue— then FDA and USDA said it wasn’t. Special interest lobbyists insisted spending on duplicative catfish inspection was vital— then the GAO called it a waste. Their history of double talk continues to this day as they shop their own myths and facts to the Hill and the media.

Catfish lobbyists love to claim that they’re not working to ban foreign competition from the U.S. market. They just want imports regulated by the same rigorous health and safety standards as their catfish.

  • What they won’t tell you is domestic and imported catfish already are regulated under the same system. Imported fish and domestic fish are both regulated by the FDA’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system—same system, same standards, no difference. The special interest catfish lobby tilted the field in 2008 – and now wonder why the field is not even?

Catfish lobbyists always point out that when imported fish test positive for unapproved chemicals it’s an indictment of the food safety system and a reason for change.

  • They conveniently leave out the fact that such tests show the system works. If the HACCP system didn’t work we wouldn’t know about those viloative samples. And while one case of unapproved chemicals is one case too many, they ignore the cases found in their own product. USDA tested 733 “catfish” fish samples and 10 came back positive for unapproved residues: five domestic and five imported.

Catfish lobbyists will tell you, if you let ‘em, that the duplicative USDA catfish inspection program has cost tax payers zero dollars. This is not a joke. Hear them out and they will eventually launch into a ludicrous lesson about how real American money isn’t real American money.

  • USDA, the department tasked with this duplicative regulatory program, tells the Government Accountability Office that it has spent almost $20 million to date on the program and will spend a minimum of $14 million annually to enact it. No matter what type of math you use that does not equal zero dollars. Only in Washington is spending money not really spending money – no wonder we are in fiscal mess.

Catfish lobbyists insist USDA Catfish Inspection will not create an unfair trade barrier for imports and that the U.S. agriculture sector does not have to worry about retaliation.

  • The Congressional Research Service, the former Chief Judge of the highest WTO Court of Appeals, and more than a dozen of the most important agriculture groups in this country respectfully but regretfully disagree with those assurances. So, it’s up to you— take in to account international trade advice from experts in the field or catfish lobbyists with nothing to lose.