Federal law needs to snag renegade imports

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
6 February 2007, at 12:00am

ALABAMA - Alabama's congressional delegation can serve the state's catfish growers and consumers by snagging support for provisions in a new farm bill aimed at turning up the heat on importers who bring fish from Vietnam and China into the United States.

The proposals, which are supported by the U.S. catfish industry, would step up examination and testing and require better labeling of imported fish from the two Asian countries. Another provision would require all countries to have labor, health and environmental standards for agricultural production similar to those in the United States to get free trade deals.

Indeed, when farmers produce basa in Vietnam and catfish in China, they don't meet the better production standards required of U.S. farmers. Either they should, or their fish should be kept out of the United States.

Vietnamese farmers don't have strict environmental rules, and they use an antibiotic that U.S. catfish farmers can't use. (The antibiotic isn't harmful to consumers, but some experts fear its use can lead to antibiotic-resistant germs in fish populations.)

As for Vietnam's neighbor, in 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration blocked 20 Chinese catfish shipments into the United States because the fish contained chemicals banned in U.S. farming, including malachite green, an industrial dye used to keep fungus off fish eggs.

Ironically, the Chinese are raising American catfish, purchased from Arkansas, bred and raised in China, and returned to U.S. markets at a much lower cost than U.S. producers must get to survive. The lower cost comes from paying Chinese laborers only about 30 cents an hour.

Vietnam imported almost 7.7 million pounds of basa and tra (another catfish-like fish) into the United States during 2006. That's about double what they shipped in the year before. In contrast, the Chinese are just getting into the market, but their potential is considerably larger. Since 2003, Chinese catfish imports have increased 20-fold to 2.5 million pounds.