Aquaculture for all

US Catfish Industry Wants More Import Inspections

Economics Food safety & handling Politics +3 more

US - Catfish Farmers of America are asking USDA to start immediate inspections and regulation of all imported catfish products to protect the health and safety of American consumers.

The Catfish Farmers of America this week launched a major advertising and public safety awareness campaign urging the USDA to enact a congressionally approved law requiring all imported catfish to meet the same stringent health and safety standards as imported beef, poultry and pork.

"We've launched this campaign because of the urgency of this health and safety issue," said Joey Lowery, president of the Catfish Farmers of America.

"We need Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to enact this law now. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our families. US catfish farmers fully support the toughest and widest-ranging regulations and inspections that will protect American consumers when it comes to catfish—both imported and domestic."

The Catfish Farmers of America advertising campaign is targeting decision-makers in Washington and opinion leaders.

While the USDA currently inspects and ensures the safety of all meat and poultry products sold in the United States, it does not inspect seafood. The inspection of seafood is conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Last year, 5.2 billion pounds of seafood were imported into the United States from foreign countries. However, the FDA inspected only two per cent of all imported seafood, including catfish, according to the Government Accountability Office.

"There is absolutely no way to determine whether all these imports are safe from contamination or harmful chemicals that aren't allowed here in the US," said Mr Lowery. "We want USDA approval that every catfish product imported into America meets the same rigorous standards for quality and safety as our 'US Farm-Raised Catfish'."

The Catfish Farmers of America started its 'All Catfish Should Be Treated Equally' campaign last week because the administration has reached a critical point in the decision-making process for enacting the law.

The US Congress, responding to evidence of serious problems with the quality of imported catfish, voted to move catfish inspections and regulation from the FDA to USDA as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. USDA Secretary Vilsack, who has made food safety one of his top priorities, is now considering whether to require that all imported catfish meet USDA standards, or to include only Chinese 'channel' catfish which are grown from young US catfish stock.

Catfish products are also imported to the United States from Vietnam and Thailand where fish from the catfish family are called tra or basa. Among the two per cent of seafood imports from Vietnam inspected by the FDA during a recent four-year period, nearly one in every five seafood shipments, including catfish, was contaminated with potentially deadly chemicals or drugs that are banned by the United States in farm-raised catfish, according to the FDA.

In a bipartisan appeal, Senator Blanche L. Lincoln (D-Ark.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, urged Vilsack to "support a broad definition of catfish that will ensure that catfish products meet the standards for safety that Americans have come to expect from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA.)"

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