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When some prominent Senate Democrats started fighting a bid by the U.S. catfish industry and its Southern allies on Capitol Hill to impose new inspections on fast-growing Vietnamese imports of the fish, they began undercutting hardworking Mississippians.

Eight senators — including Dick Durbin of Illinois and John Kerry of Massachusetts — warned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that he could spark a trade war if Asian fish are included in a new inspection regime that was pushed through Congress last year at the urging of U.S. producers.

The problem is these folks just are not thoughtful enough to see the entire picture.

The senators said it was not their intent to include the Vietnamese fish in the new system when it was passed in last year’s massive farm bill. Doing so, they wrote, would serve as a “de facto ban on exports from key trading partners.”

“Such action may prompt retaliatory measures against U.S. exports” of other products, the senators wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The domestic catfish industry, which is struggling against the cheaper imports, says better inspections are necessary to ensure safety.

There have been growing concerns over the last couple of years about catfish imported from China, Vietnam and Cambodia. The poor water quality where catfish are grown prompts growers in those countries to use antibiotics in production, but some of those drugs are not approved for use in the United States.

Growers in the United States follow stricter standards than catfish producers in Asia, Whittington said, and U.S. consumers should know what they’re getting when they eat catfish at a restaurant. Grocery stores already are required to label catfish products with country of origin, and we believe that no less should be expected of Mississippi restaurants.

Mississippi catfish growers have taken a huge financial hit from the import of catfish products, according to statistics from U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sales by catfish growers in the United States were down by 8 percent in 2007 and 10 percent in 2008, and industry experts claim this is due to cheaper imported fish. Senate Democrats need to get on board.

Maybe their colleague on the House side from Mississippi’s Second Congressional District could explain to them just how important the catfish industry is to the well being of so many here in the Magnolia State.

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