Are US catfish safe to eat?

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Catfish, those whiskered bottom-feeders, might soon have to pass a more rigorous inspection process before ending up in your grocery store or favorite po’ boy sandwich shop, thanks to the new Agriculture Act. The legislation sets much needed deadlines for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s catfish inspection office to finalize and implement its rules for inspection, which have been pending for five years.

The words “much needed” are used here because the highly-specialized office, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, has yet to examine a single catfish as a result of its failure to settle on inspection standards—despite being given from $15 million to $17 million since 2009. The office, which reportedly is staffed by four people, couldn’t even decide which varieties of catfish to oversee. That level of productivity would doom any private startup; most investors would have pulled the plug years ago.

Where did all those tax dollars go? Getting the new office set up, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which means salaries, contracts with universities to test catfish samples, travel, equipment, and supplies. A breakdown of this office’s expenditures was not available, but for context, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (the USDA agency that it belongs to) spends about 80 percent of its funds on salary and benefits, 15 percent on travel, intrastate inspection programs, system infrastructure, and other fixed costs, and 5 percent on operations, including supplies and equipment, according to GAO.

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