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Catfish import ban bolsters farmers claims

US - For years U.S. catfish farmers have complained about unfair Asian aquaculture management and the dangers it poses US consumers. US farmers have charged Chinese and Vietnamese operations with improper use of antibiotics and chemicals and using unclean water supplies.

But even as Chinese aquaculture imports topped 4.5 billion pounds in 2006 (representing 80 percent of U.S. imports and up 1 billion pounds since 1995) few in government listened. Even after the FDA was alerted in 2002 of European tests on Chinese shrimp showing the antibiotic chloramphenicol (and periodic, similar alerts from the agency since then) there was no governmental move to halt the imports.

Then, in late spring, Fido keeled over, muzzle-deep in tainted, imported Chinese feed. At that point, with distraught pet-owners barking in its collective ear, the U.S. government finally took a closer look at exactly what Chinese imports contained.

What it found in fish — including banned contaminants like malachite green, fluoroquinolones, nitrofurans and gentian violet — proved the U.S. catfish industry hadn’t been crying wolf. Some of the banned substances are carcinogens; others increase the risk of antibiotic resistance and the development of a super bug.

Sufficiently alarmed, on June 28 the FDA announced an alert and the imposition of stricter import guidelines on Chinese farm-raised catfish (basa or tra), bass, shrimp, dace and eel.

“We’re taking this strong step because of current and continuing evidence that certain Chinese aquaculture products imported into the United States contain illegal substances that are not permitted in seafood sold in the United States,” said David Acheson, FDA’s assistant commissioner for food protection.

Shortly thereafter, attempting to show it took the charges seriously, Chinese officials announced 180 food production plants had been closed and more than 23,000 food safety violations had been found. Even so, the new FDA rules stand.

“I applaud the FDA for imposing a nationwide ban on importing fish from China to help ensure the health and safety of all Americans,” said Rep. Mike Ross, an Arkansas Democrat with fish-farming operations in his district. “Our food supply is critical to our national security and we must not allow foreign producers to provide us contaminated foods that do not meet the FDA standards.

“We require strict guidelines from our local farmers and we must demand the same accountability from our imported food sources as well. The FDA’s swift action on this matter is greatly appreciated and I want to thank them for recognizing the health risks these imported fish pose to American consumers.”

But the FDA is late to the game, said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This latest crisis is further proof that FDA has serious catching up to do. There is a pattern emerging here. Over two months ago several states in this country had to step in and take action when they found unapproved drugs in farm-raised seafood from China. With the largest pet food recall in American history originating in China — and with proof from states that producers in China are using banned drugs in aquaculture — why is FDA just now banning these products from China?”

Source: Delta Farm Press