Catfish Battle Erupts in US Senate Trade Debate

U.S. Senate debate over a bill to facilitate approval of a mammoth, 12-nation Pacific Rim free trade pact was mired Tuesday in a squabble over catfish, a whiskered, fresh-water fish commercially farmed in the United States that faces competition from Asian imports of a similar species. The controversy illuminates domestic political hurdles for trade legislation, as lawmakers contend with a multitude of local interests affected by international competition….

…That spat spilled onto the Senate floor Tuesday, when Republican John McCain decried a measure that smells fishy (suspicious) to Vietnam and other TPP nations: enhanced U.S. government inspections of an Asian-produced catfish equivalent.

“The true purpose of the catfish program is to create a trade barrier to protect a small, handful of catfish farmers in two or three southern states – one of the most brazen and reckless protectionist programs that I have encountered in my time in the U.S. Senate,” said McCain.

The 2008 U.S. farm bill mandated a new catfish inspection regime run by the Agriculture Department. All other seafood sold in America is tested by the Food and Drug Administration…

…According to Republican Senator Roger Wicker, the real issue is not protectionism, it’s the health of American consumers. Wicker represents Mississippi, one of America’s biggest catfish producers.

“What this is about is food safety for Americans in 50 states who deserve to know that the fish they are eating is unadulterated,” said Wicker.

Wicker says Asian-produced seafood has been found to have higher levels of chemicals and other contaminants.

“We’re talking about cancer! Many overseas productions are simply not operated under the sanitary conditions that we insist upon in the United States with our farm-raised catfish,” he said.

Voice of America

5/19/15