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Update: McCain versus Mississippi catfish

March 9th, 2011 Comments off

The catfish industry isn’t receiving any favors lately …

I will have my column about the subject this week, which you can read on my blog Friday …

Below is reaction from the catfish industry, followed by a statement from Sen. Jon McCain.

Catfish Industry

A proposal by Sen. John McCain to repeal a law making all catfish safer for American consumers ignores numerous findings of banned substances in imported catfish products and favors inadequate food safety requirements.

“It is stunning that Sen. McCain has chosen to protect importers and Vietnamese farmers over the health and safety of American citizens,” said Butch Wilson, newly elected president of the Catfish Farmers of America.

The U.S. Congress, concerned about food safety, voted to move catfish inspections and regulation from the FDA to USDA as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

A bill proposed by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) would repeal the 2008 regulation.

The USDA has greater authority to conduct on-site safety inspections of production facilities, guarantee accurate labeling and enforce requirements that imported meat, poultry and catfish meet the same health and safety standards as American products. The USDA’s inspection requirements and regulations are well-known to U.S. trading partners.

In a statement announcing the bill, McCain alleged the “Food and Drug Administration hasn’t reported any safety or health problems with the Vietnamese imports.”

That is wrong. The FDA has found in imported catfish from Vietnam and other nations potentially dangerous chemicals or drugs that are banned by the United States in farm-raised catfish, according to the FDA. Details at this FDA link:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/Seafood/SeafoodRegulatoryProgram/ucm150954.htm

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last month a major criminal case of mislabeling and hazardous contaminants found in Vietnamese frozen catfish fillets imported by a seafood import company in McCain’s home state of Arizona. NOAA’s criminal investigation discovered that the Arizona company “bought Vietnamese catfish illegally imported into the U.S. labeled as sole” which was then sold to approximately 65 different wholesale customers, including supermarkets and restaurants.

“Some of the fish tested positive for malachite green and Enrofloxin, both of which are considered health hazards and banned from U.S. food products,” NOAA said in a statement on this link:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110204_seafoodmislabeling.html

In addition, the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries issued a halt on the sale of imported Asian catfish and related fish in November 2009 after the fish tested positive for antibiotic Fluoroquinolones banned for use in fish or other seafood products sold in the United States because of the health and safety danger to consumers.

“There could be no better advertising for catfish than to have the USDA seal of approval stamped on the package,” said Wilson, adding that the law would apply to all U.S. Farm Raised Catfish as well as imported catfish. “We welcome the USDA oversight on our U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish. Whether a food safety incident results from domestic or foreign fish, the impact is the same: Consumer confidence in all catfish will evaporate.”

Sen. John McCain statement

“Mr. President, I’m pleased to be joined by my colleague, Senator Coburn, in introducing legislation to repeal duplicative federal regulations relating to the inspection and grading of catfish. Specifically, our bill would rescind a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill, Section 11016 of P.L. 110-246, which aims to inhibit Vietnamese catfish imports as well as catfish imports of other potential trade partners.

“Mr. President, Section 11016 is nothing more than the latest effort by Members of Congress serving the special interests of the catfish industry in their home states. A similar protectionist tactic was tried in the 2002 Farm Bill when many of these same members slipped in language that made it illegal to label Vietnamese catfish (‘pangasius’) as catfish in U.S. retail markets. The intent there was to discourage American consumers from buying Vietnamese catfish products even though they are virtually indistinguishable from U.S. grown catfish. It didn’t work. Vietnamese catfish remain popular with American consumers because it’s more affordable and cheaper to produce than domestic catfish grown in aquaculture ponds. Now these special interests are relying on this latest Farm Bill rider to over regulate Vietnamese catfish by, ironically, deeming pangasius a catfish again. Under the guise of food safety, the 2008 Farm Bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to inspect catfish like it does meat products or eggs, except that no other fish is under the regulatory thumb of the FSIS. Catfish is already regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which hasn’t reported any safety or health problems with the Vietnamese imports. Domestic producers are simply trying to create barriers for Vietnamese catfish farmers by forcing them to comply with a second inspection regime administered by an entirely different arm of the federal bureaucracy.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently engaged in the proposed rulemaking process for implementing this new inspection authority. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report flagged this FSIS program as ‘duplicative’ and ‘high risk’ for ‘fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.’ GAO estimates that the USDA would spend about $30 million in taxpayer dollars to implement the agency’s new catfish inspection program and that we’d be further fragmenting our federal food safety system by having catfish regulated twice by both USDA and FDA.

“Mr. President, the provision that I’m seeking to repeal is nothing more than a protectionist tactic funded at taxpayers’ expense. If implemented, the proposed USDA regulations will lead to a duplicative, costly and complex overseas inspection program that serves no real purpose but to protect American catfish growers from competition while forcing American consumers to pay more for fish. Not only is the catfish provision in Section 11016 offensive to our principles of free trade, it flagrantly disregards our Bilateral Trade Agreement and relationship with Vietnam. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”