GOP's Bootstrap Hypocrisy

GOP's Bootstrap Hypocrisy

There’s an old adage: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” It’s a maxim that many Republicans in the House might agree with, from both a moral and policy perspective. The GOP professes to recognize that teaching communities to “fish” drives out poverty and improves livelihoods.

How strongly do GOP leaders believe this “bootstrap out of poverty” approach? Speaker Ryan recently noted the “need to get to the root causes of poverty to fight the cycle of poverty.” And, in a similar way, a recent House report maintains that “one-size-fits-all, top-down government programs” “limit” people’s ability to get ahead, preferring “public-private partnerships” to “bring out the best of what each sector has to offer.”

But as we head into what will certainly be a tumultuous lame-duck session, there is a real possibility that the GOP’s bootstrap hypocrisy will be on full display — especially when it comes to helping real people fish. 

Last year, Sustainable Seafood Sales, LLC formed a joint venture with an aquaculture company in the Dominican Republic. Value Sustainable Aquaculture is the only company in the Western Hemisphere that farms and distributes a fish called Pangasius, an affordable white fish related to the catfish and marketed as sutchi. The partnership raises the fish in all natural, clear mountain water and with locally produced feed. The operation employs more locals than any other employer in the region, and it produces goods for export, bringing much needed dollars into the local economy. 

Recent regulation of all catfish, including Pangasius, moved seafood-safety oversight from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Agriculture Department (USDA). This has had an immediate, significant, and negative impact on employees of this venture and their families, both in the Dominican Republic and here in the U.S. The new rules are designed to block imported catfish competition. 

The “catfish” clause is a regulation by earmark designed to benefit a few catfish processers. As David Acheson, the former Food Safety Czar at the FDA and USDA, put it:

“No one was concerned about the safety of catfish until Southern catfish interests determined the USDA regulatory system would effectively block its imported competition at the border. This restriction is based on regulatory differences between USDA and FDA that does not make the product safer, just more difficult to import.”

Acheson concludes, “this decision…was a great example of manipulating food safety policy to erect a non-tariff trade barrier.” 

The unintended consequences of such selfish manipulation of food-safety policy will be to cut off the fish trade with a region and country that needs the industry. The families that have, literally, learned to fish will lose their jobs and opportunities to improve their lives.

But Speaker Paul Ryan and his GOP leadership could get rid of this program right now. The Senate has already voted to kill the program and more than 225 members of the House, a full majority, have pleaded with Ryan and McCarthy to allow them to vote the program down. But, thus far, Ryan has ignored these calls, despite his professed beliefs about creating economic opportunity.

Now, as the Dominican Republic rebuilds after Hurricane Matthew, the economic forecast remains cloudy. The partnership between Sustainable Seafood Sales, LLC and Value Sustainable Aquaculture offers a bright spot in a country seeking economic independence. Shame on GOP leaders for not practicing what they preach about creating economic opportunity.

Sean Bergen is the founder of Sustainable Seafood Sales, LLC a company focused on developing new aquaculture operations that are doing the right thing and producing exceptional quality seafood harvested with the blessing of Mother Nature.

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