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Seafood labeling bill awaits lawmakers

PASCAGOULA — A bill that would require Mississippi restaurants to notify customers of the country of origin of their seafood is being prepared for the Legislature.

“I don’t think it is going to hurt the restaurant business,” Sen. Tommy Moffatt, R-Gautier, said about the Country of Origin Labeling bill.

Beginning in July 2008, Mississippi restaurants were required to notify customers of origin of catfish they serve.

Moffatt said the new proposal “pushes Mississippi products.”

The Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources is scheduled consider this week a resolution for country of origin labeling for all seafood products served in restaurants.

Steve Bosarge of Pascagoula, a commission member and shrimper, said that restaurants now must say where their shrimp came from only if a customer asks.

“We want it to where they have to actually put it on the menu the country of origin as to where that shrimp came from,” Bosarge said.

The menu labeling requirement would help shrimpers expand the market for their catch, he said. Domestic shrimp make up 12 to 14 percent of the market, he said.

Bosarge said that people who have taste-tested domestic shrimp vs. foreign pond-raised shrimp find “there is a vast difference in taste, there is a vast difference in texture, and there is a vast difference in quality.”

The Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association opposes the labeling, said executive director Mike Cashion.

“The shrimp and catfish situation has a little bit of different dynamic,” he said.

The supply of domestic shrimp is not adequate to meet public demand, Cashion said, “so, we are reliant on foreign shrimp.”

Shrimp imports come from six to eight countries, Cashion said.

“The bottom line is you may get domestic shrimp on Monday and Ecuadorian shrimp on Friday,” he said. “You would have to reprint your menu every time you get a shrimp order in.”

Most of the catfish served in Mississippi restaurants is domestically produced, Cashion said.

Restaurants can comply with the catfish labeling “simply by posting a sign,” he said.

Cashion said the key issue for federal agencies is to ensure that imported products are safe.

“That’s where we encourage government to exercise their control,” he said.

Bosarge said the labeling would help people order wild-caught domestic shrimp “that eventually will bring a premium price. Right now, our prices are set by imported prices.”

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