By Christine Blank, Contributing Editor
Published on Tuesday, July 26, 2016
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced it will develop voluntary standards for catfish grading, a statement that came under immediate scrutiny from the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), which described the step as unnecessary bureaucracy that will encumber U.S. catfish producers.
In a 14 July press release, USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service said it is developing voluntary standards for grading catfish and catfish products, which it was directed to do by the 2014 Farm Bill.
“The USDA grade shields assure consumers that products have gone through a rigorous review process by highly-skilled graders that follow the official grade standards,” the agency said in a statement. “These standards provide a common language for buyers and sellers of commodities and are widely used by the agricultural industry in domestic and international trading, futures market contracts, and as a benchmark for purchase specifications in most private contracts.”
However, while USDA oversees grading standards for meat products, it has no business getting into catfish grading, said Gavin Gibbons, vice president of communications at National Fisheries Institute, the U.S. seafood trade association.
“They [USDA] have never done that for any fish before,” Gibbons said. “It is another layer of bureaucracy that we didn’t have before. This is just another example of yet another regulatory wing that is getting involved in catfish.”
The grading proposal is just the latest controversial regulatory program facing catfish producers, according to Gibbons. While the U.S. Senate voted on 25 May to eliminate the requirement that all imported catfish be inspected by the USDA, the House of Representatives has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill. Some seafood organizations and catfish producers support USDA’s involvement in the inspection process, while others say the current inspection program headed up by the Food and Drug Administration is sufficient.
Meanwhile, for its grading proposal, USDA is asking for research, industry data and background information from catfish producers, suppliers, processors, retailers and foodservice operators, as well as comments related to the catfish quality standard that is currently implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
“There will be additional time for stakeholder feedback before implementing a grading program,” the USDA said.
Comments, information, and data on the Federal Register notice are due no later than 12 September, 2016. Those who want to comment can use the electronic process available at www.regulations.gov or by email@example.com. Written comments, information, and data may also be submitted to Catfish Grade Standards, Quality Assessment Division (QAD), 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Stop 0258, Room 3932S, Washington, D.C. 20250 or via fax to (202) 690-2746.