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McCain takes aim square at Mississippi catfish farmers

March 11th, 2011 Comments off

Bennie Thompson ain’t talking about catfish, but Sen. John McCain is.
We have asked Congressman Thompson to comment on the new catfish inspection program that critics say threatens to derail U.S. trade relations with Vietnam. He has never returned a phone call or an e-mail.
However, last week, we ran a story on our website about the catfish industry’s reaction to a proposal by McCain to repeal that very same law, and the McCain camp was on the phone.
They wanted to know where the story came from, and why we were running it and why we didn’t have a response from Sen. McCain.
That’s what I am looking for, I said.
This whole thing has boggled my mind from the beginning and I wanted someone to explain why there would be any consideration for choosing Vietnamese fish in a trade debate ahead of U.S. catfish.
What the McCain camp sent was a canned, rambling floor statement, which read, in part, “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.”
Mississippi’s Thad Cochran also responded to interview requests, saying, “My initial reaction to legislation to repeal the USDA catfish inspection authority is that it is uncalled for.
“I will oppose it,” Cochran continued. “The Department of Agriculture should be given a chance to finally carry out the inspection authority Congress gave it in 2008. This inspection process would help ensure that imported catfish are as safe and nutritious as the catfish produced in Mississippi and elsewhere. We do not have that assurance today The current federal inspection regime involves testing a very small percentage – only 2 percent — of the catfish imported into this country. While I regret the long, drawn-out process to implement this USDA mandate, I believe it remains important.”
Unfortunately, neither Cochran nor McCain’s positions do a lot to help the Mississippi catfish farmers, mostly conservative and mostly Republican, who are going broke.
As someone without a dog in the fight, other than being from a state that produces farm-raised catfish, it would appear Sen. McCain is more concerned about trade with Vietnam than the economy in the South, specifically.
Mississippi catfish growers have taken a huge financial hit from the import of catfish products, according to statistics from U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In recent weeks, we reported that Itta Bena-based Heartland Catfish is making cutbacks. Many other independent farmers are turning over their ponds to go back to row crops, and this has been going on for years now.
It won’t be too long before there isn’t a debate to have as all of the catfish ponds around the South will have dried up.
We won’t take it for granted, like we do now, of the all-you-can-eat buffets across Mississippi and the rest of the Southeast.
It will become something we eat when we go and catch the big one; you know, the one that has grown up in the Mississippi River where it has survived on a constant diet of sludge and pollutants.
You know, kind of like the fish the Vietnamese importing to us now.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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.”

Media: We are easy targets

October 11th, 2010 Comments off

Somewhere along the line, it’s lost that I am a member of the media. Either that or the e-mail lists I wind up on are meant to send a message.

In actuality, I suspect, neither is the case. But I get a chuckle out of the stuff that gets sent around with particular venom and general mean spirit about the media.

We in the media, according to most of the e-mails, are anti-America, anti-military, anti-business, anti-family … basically, just “anti.”

One I got not so long ago referenced the death of a Medal of Honor winner, who lived in Boise, Idaho.
The e-mail goes into great detail about his experience in Ia Drang Valley during the Vietnam War.
Ed Freeman, against orders, flew his helicopter into a firefight to save pinned-down infantrymen. Actually, he went back and forth 13 times for men that would have perished otherwise.
Then, the kicker … “I bet you didn’t hear about this hero’s passing in the media.”

But the e-mailer was sure we had all seen lots of reports of celebrity antics and brushes with the law.
The final line read, “Shame on the American Media!”

Lazy and presumptive

Well, this kind of stuff drives me crazy. So, I immediately began to look up Mr. Freeman with this new, fancy technological tool, called “Google.”

After exhaustive research of the woeful American media archives, and with my (media-hat-wearing) head hung low, I responded to the e-mail:

Just a quick search shows that the media did a fine job in covering this story, below are three stories that I found. I am sure there are more, including local television and radio, which I did not look for.
Even a Mississippi post office may be named after this war hero, I read in a newspaper account.
I believe people are too quick to jump on the media. If folks will take about three seconds to look for it, generally you will find that the media has done its job.

And yes, this is a great story about a great American that served his country well, and I am glad the media did a good job in reporting it. Best, Ross.

I included several links to the stories. Three seconds. That’s all it took.

I know the media is an easy target and sometimes rightfully so as Howard Kurtz pointed out in his book “Media Circus: The Trouble with America’s Newspapers.”

Kurtz, the long-time Washington Post media critic, who last week jumped to the web’s “Daily Beast,” points out a bias toward bad news, and an emphasis on scandal.

But, by and large, the media — the middle-of-the-road media — does it right most of the time.
While we might not like everything we read or see, the media serves a great purpose in our society, which we would miss dearly were it not available in an objective form. I only hope we at the MBJ can live up to the other great journalism being practiced in every form of the profession.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.