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Fate of imported catfish inspections rests in the House

By JACK WEATHERLY 

In the past decade, the U.S. catfish industry has been stood on its head.

In 2006, domestic producers had two-thirds of the market. Imports were the other third.

Now it’s the reverse, as importers account for more than 70 percent of the market.

Hopes were raised when the U.S. industry succeeded in getting the 2008 and 2014 farm bills to include switching the inspection of catfish to the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the Food and Drug Administration, guaranteeing a much more thorough inspection of the imports because of the USDA’s deeper resources.

Due to the FDA’s lack of manpower, only 2 percent of all seafood imports were inspected, according to Dr. Jimmy Avery, an Extension Service aquaculture professor at Mississippi State University.

“Worse yet,” Avery said in “talking points” he issued, “less than 0.2 percent were subjected to laboratory analysis of microbial contamination or drug residues.”

The FDA found carcinogens and drug residues in the imports, most of which come from China and Vietnam, and “you would have hoped that that number (of inspections) would’ve gone up,” Avery said in an interview.

However, the Senate vote of 55-43 on May 25 to sidetrack the transition came after President Barack Obama visited Vietnam, a major exporter of catfish. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other critics said the new regulation was wasteful and meant as an anti-competition hurdle.

The Senate resolution has been sent to the House.

Mississippi’s Second Congressional District, represented by Democrat Bennie Thompson encompasses nearly all of the catfish producing the processing the state.

Thompson “believes that we’ve already debated and passed this inspection in both the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bill,” said his legislative director, Cory Horton.

“With all the problems we have in the country today, helping Vietnamese farmers isn’t something we should be doing.”

Some lawmakers who support the status quo have constituents who are seafood importers, Horton said.

Mississippi is still the production leader, but its 39,000 acres of ponds is a far cry from the more than 100,000 acres early in the previous decade.

Domestic producers have long alleged that foreign fish in the Siluriformes order, which includes the catfish raised in U.S. ponds, are inferior, in no small part because they are raised in standards that do not measure up to America’s.

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