A Memphis television station recently reported that The Dixie Café was selling Vietnamese farmed pangasius labeled as “catfish” and failed to properly identify the fish to consumers. Under federal law, only American channel catfish (ictalurus) may be sold as catfish.
The FDA said it only physically inspects between one and two percent of fish imports, meaning 98 percent or more of imported pangasius eaten by Americans has not been inspected at all for safety. In sharp contrast, Bill Battle, a U.S. Catfish farmer in the Memphis metropolitan area said the FDA inspects his operation once a month. “If they found any of the dangerous additives frequently found in Vietnamese fish in my fish, they would shut me down,” Mr. Battle added.
As reported by media and consumer organizations across the nation, as much as 50 percent of seafood Americans eat in restaurants is mislabeled. Often, cheap and potentially tainted Vietnamese pangasius is illegally sold as other, more expensive species including catfish and grouper. The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee require restaurants to label the country of origin (COOL) of catfish served. The federal government, however, has no such requirement, and not every state law covers pangasius, which is often served as “catfish.”