Cochran argues for broad catfish definition

WASHINGTON — As part of a public comment hearing on the definition of catfish and related fish types, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today argued in favor of a broad federal definition to help guarantee that American consumers are being served safe fish.

Cochran, who sponsored the 2008 Farm Bill requirement on imported catfish inspections, today presented testimony at a public meeting hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on two proposed definitions for catfish — one a narrow definition and the other a broader classification that incorporates all catfish types, including the Pangasiidae fish commonly farmed in some Southeast Asian countries.

The definition finally adopted by the USDA will be pivotal for the agency’s compliance with a 2008 Farm Bill directive requiring it begin a more thorough inspection process for imported catfish.

“With nearly a third of all catfish consumed in the United States imported from foreign sources, it is important to health and safety interests that we provide the necessary tools and resources to ensure that these imports meet the same quality standards as domestic products. While we owe that assurance to American consumers, the current inspection system for catfish does not meet that responsibility.

“The two options that the USDA issued in the proposed rule would bring significantly different food safety results. The broader option, which I urge you to support, would subject all consumed catfish to the same inspection standards. The narrower option would exempt a large majority of imported catfish from meeting these requirements. With a stringent, robust inspection system already in place for beef, poultry and other products, a similar inspection program for catfish could be implemented while remaining compliant with our international trade commitments.”

During his presentation at the USDA today, Cochran also highlighted the recent Government Accountability Office report titled “Seafood Safety:  FDA Needs to Improve Oversight of Imported Seafood and Better Leverage Limited Resources” that underscores the lack of sufficient food safety inspections for imported seafood, including imported catfish. Only about 2 percent of imported seafood is currently inspected. Even at that minimal level, there were health and safety violations found in 482 shipments of imported catfish products between 2002 and August 2010.

“Fish farming environments in countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand are far less controlled and are exposed to a number of chemicals that are banned in the United States. Allowing contaminated products to enter our country’s food supply without being properly inspected would not only weaken consumer confidence, it would pose a significant public health risk,” Cochran said.

“Our country enjoys the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply in the world. Americans must be able to trust that the food they purchase in restaurants and at the grocery stores is of the highest quality.”

The USDA is accepting public comments until June 24 on the draft rule issued by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regarding the catfish definition issue, which will be incorporated into the final FSIS guidelines for inspecting catfish and catfish products, as well as the conditions under which the fish are raised and transported.

A second public comment meeting is scheduled for May 26 from 9 a.m. to noon May 26 at the Charles Capps Center at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. Registration for the meeting begins at 8:30 a.m.

Source: Sen. Thad Cochran

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