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Groups, congressman call for USDA inspections

In letters sent recently to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, three of the nation’s food safety watchdog groups and a U.S. congressman voiced their support for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspections for domestic and imported catfish species, as mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill.

The first letter was sent jointly by the Consumer Federation of America, Food and Water Watch and Safe Tables Our Priority. In part, the letter said: “We hope you will use the new responsibility given to the USDA by the 2008 Farm Bill to design a program that requires specific safety standards for both domestic and imported catfish, as the agency currently does for meat and poultry.

“Consumers have good reason to demand that imported catfish be raised and processed under similar safety standards as domestic catfish. Since June 1, 2008, the FDA has rejected catfish products imported from China, Thailand and Vietnam a total of 31 times.

“The intent of Congress in creating this new inspection program for catfish was to assure that catfish was safely produced and processed for consumers. Since the majority of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, it is crucial that any new standards and inspection program for catfish apply to both domestic and imported species.

In a separate letter, Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell wrote, in part: “Currently there is no mandate to inspect or certify that foreign seafood plants meet standards equivalent to those in the United States, though such mandates exist for other meat proteins.

“During my most recent trip to the Mekong Delta (in Vietnam), I saw the putrid conditions in which these fish are raised. I saw raw sewage and drainage pipes leading directly into the Mekong Delta upstream from where the fish farms are located.

“The FDA only voluntarily inspects less than one percent of total food imports and less than two percent of seafood from foreign plants. This is frightening and unacceptable.”

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