Study: Imported fish pose public health hazard

by Wally Northway

Published: July 26,2010

Tags: agriculture, aquaculture, catfish, food inspections, food safety, international trade

The Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) last week released the findings of a study evaluating the risks associated with eating catfish.

The report, conducted by Exponent, backs CFA’s prior claims that imported fish bring greater risks to public health than domestic aquaculture and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should conduct catfish inspections.

Based on its review of the current practices in catfish aquaculture and processing, Exponent found that freshwater aquaculture should have an inspection system that differs from other seafood systems, because their hazards, sources and interventions differ significantly from those applicable to wild caught, marine seafood species. And when establishing food safety control systems, the taxonomic definition of catfish that includes all species within the imported Siluriformes Order of finfish would provide the greatest level of consumer protection by including products with similar characteristics and potential hazards.

The study found that the greatest public health threats include pathogenic microorganisms, antimicrobial/drug residues and environmental chemicals.

Salmonella is the most important microbiological pathogen associated with catfish and the second most common violation found in imported fishery and seafood products.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) surveillance testing of imported catfish showed the frequent presence in the fillets of illegal drugs and chemicals that were given to the live fish. FDA has not found an illegal drug in domestic aquaculture seafood.

Exponent found the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s inspection program directs greater regulatory resources toward their regulated foods than the FDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In the summary of solutions, the report said: “Safety cannot be inspected into a product by the government at a domestic processing establishment or at the port of entry. Rather, effective regulatory and private sector control must extend back to the growing operations to prevent the hazards from being in the final product.”

In 2009, catfish was Mississippi’s sixth-largest commodity at $182 million, according to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. The state had 407 catfish operations encompassing 70,000 acres of production.

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