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The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) is applauding a bill U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced on Monday to rescind a provision transferring regulation of domestic and imported catfish from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Catfish Farmers of America (CFA), however, criticized the bill, saying it weakens the U.S. food-safety system.

In a statement released on Wednesday, VASEP General Secretary Truong Dinh Hoe said the catfish-inspection provision — included in the 2008 Farm Bill and charging the USDA with inspecting catfish under the agency’s Federal Meat Inspection Act (inspections are mandatory) — is intended to be a trade barrier.

“Members of our association export to global markets, such as the European Union and United States, where they comply with the some of the most stringent standards in the world for food safety and quality,” he said. “We applaud the legislation introduced by Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn and suggest that any action that disregards the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement deserves to be repealed.”

The CFA, which pushed for the provision to be attached to the 2008 Farm Bill, claims that the USDA has greater authority than the FDA to conduct on-site inspections of production facilities, guarantee accurate labeling and enforce 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, the CFA’s newly elected president.

“There could be no better advertising for catfish than to have the USDA seal of approval stamped on the package,” noted Wilson, adding that the law will apply to both domestic and 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.”

Editor’s note: Click here to view Tuesday’s SeafoodSource commentary on the McCain-Coburn bill.

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