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Millions of Dollars Later, America’s Catfish Are No Safer to Eat

A channel catfish in Genoa, Wisc.
A channel catfish in Genoa, Wisc.Photograph by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Creative

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.