Catfish industry touts comments on inspections

WASHINGTON — Public comments and evidence submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture overwhelmingly support broad inspection and regulation of all commercial catfish species imported or grown for sale to consumers in the United States, according to the USDA website.

Of the 280 comments posted on the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) official comment site, 84 percent, or 234 postings, urged the agency to include all imported and domestic catfish in new regulations currently under consideration by FSIS, according to data posted on Regulations.gov. In addition, more than 4,000 consumers filed petitions on the site urging USDA to include all catfish under the new rules.

The public comment period ended June 24.

“The comments submitted to the USDA make it absolutely clear that consumers, chefs, scientists, public officials and members of the catfish industry all agree: Our  government needs to guarantee the safety of every catfish that lands on a plate in the United States, regardless of where it was raised,” said Butch Wilson, president of the Catfish Farmers of America.

Congress voted in 2008 to shift inspection and regulation of catfish from the Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) to the USDA because of safety concerns revealed in several government investigations. In its most recent report released in April, the Government Accountability Office reported that FDA tested only one-tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) of all seafood imported into the United States for banned drugs in 2009.

The report also found that FDA violated its own regulations and tested no catfish for banned drugs from 2006 to 2009, despite designating catfish as one of its highest priority imports for inspections.

The primary opponents to the new regulations are some exporting nations and the U.S. seafood importing industry. Opponents say they fear many imported fish will be unable to meet the USDA’s health and safety regulations.

The most contentious issue in the new regulations is whether the USDA will inspect all domestic and imported catfish or only catfish related to the U.S.-grown catfish species. If the narrower version of the law is imposed, the majority of imported catfish would be exempt from the new catfish inspection and regulation rules, according to U.S. government data.

“We are asking the USDA not to take a day longer than is absolutely necessary to finish writing and enforce these new consumer regulations,” said Joey Lowery, chairman of the board of the Catfish Farmers of America. “We want all catfish to be as safe as possible for the American consumer as soon as possible.”

Source: Catfish Farmers of America

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