Reinhard, H./picture alliance / Arco Images G/Newscom

Reinhard, H./picture alliance / Arco Images G/Newscom

If you’re looking for the word catfish in the omnibus appropriations bill, you’ll just look past the language that was included in the legislation:

Provided further, That the Food Safety and Inspection Service shall continue implementation of section 11016 of Public Law 110–246.

In the Joint Explanatory Statement regarding the bill:

The agreement supports implementation of section 11016 of Public Law 110–246 and expects USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] to meet its statutory obligation and promulgate regulations to implement this section using the broad definition contained in its proposed rule.

Section 11016 of Public Law 110–246 is the USDA’s duplicative and costly catfish inspection program in the 2008 farm bill, which presumably everybody is supposed to know.

There’s wide support for repealing the program. President Obama sought to eliminate funding for it in his fiscal year 2014 budget. The House farm bill would repeal it. Even the independent Government Accountability Office hasn’t been shy to consistently recommend its repeal. The program is expected to cost taxpayers about $14 million annually without any additional safety benefits.

However, the omnibus appropriations bill expressly directs the USDA to implement the infamous catfish program and to interpret catfish broadly, which will help protect the domestic catfish industry from foreign competition.

The need for this “broad definition” has an amusing history. In 2002, the catfish industry successfully pushed for a catfish labeling standard that prohibited certain foreign fish, which have a similar taste but come from a different family than domestic catfish, from being labeled as “catfish.” This would presumably give a market advantage to the domestic catfish industry, which would be able to claim their fish were “catfish” while foreign competitors could not make the same claim.

Then came the 2008 farm bill provision that required catfish to be regulated by the USDA. By having the USDA regulate foreign catfish, foreign imports would be prohibited from countries that haven’t established equivalent regulatory systems to the USDA system. This process could take years. Some countries may not even bother. This would prove to be quite the benefit for domestic catfish farmers.

There has been a snag, though. The 2008 farm bill language wasn’t clear that the similar-tasting foreign fish should be regulated as catfish. This is the same fish that the catfish industry itself said shouldn’t be labeled as catfish.

That’s where the “broad definition” language in the omnibus bill comes in. By covering more fish, the catfish inspection program would help protect domestic catfish from competing against the same fish that aren’t catfish for labeling purposes but would be catfish for inspection purposes.

There’s one simple solution to this farce: The catfish inspection should be repealed.