- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vietnam’s ambassador to the U.S. pointedly warned the House this week that lawmakers are inviting a battle over free trade if it continues to protect a catfish inspection program that even Congress’s own investigators say is useless.

Vietnam strongly values its trade with the United States. We also believe American farmers value the export opportunities that exist in Vietnam and other countries,” Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong said in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The fight is over the Office of Catfish Inspection, created by Congress in 2008, which Vietnam views as a way to try to keep Vietnamese pangasius fish from the U.S. catfish market.

Congress’s own chief auditor has said the Catfish Inspection program is a waste of money since it duplicates inspections already performed by the Food and Drug Administration, and the Senate voted earlier this year to eliminate the inspection.

But a House committee voted to preserve the catfish office as part of the farm bill.

Vietnam’s ambassador said nearly 3 million farmers and other workers depend on exports of the pangasius for their livelihoods.

Catfish Farmers of America has fought to preserve the extra inspection office, saying that FDA inspection alone isn’t good enough and that the extra inspection — which is part of the Agriculture Department — is needed to protect consumers.

“Whether a food safety incident results from domestic or foreign fish, the impact is the same: consumer confidence in all catfish plummets,” CFA President Butch Wilson said in June, during the Senate debate.

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