U.S. catfish industry urges Texas to test imports
By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
14 September, 2012
The U.S. farmed catfish industry is urging Texas to require imported catfish to undergo the same safety testing required of domestic catfish.
“We recommend that Texas start testing as a matter of consumer protection, and consider country of origin labeling (COOL) for catfish served in restaurants,” said Jeff McCord, advisor to The Catfish Institute in Jackson, Miss.
McCord and scientists were invited to testify before the Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs earlier this week for a hearing on seafood safety. State Senator Glenn Hegar had filed a bill that would restrict catfish imports last year. The bill did not pass, and Sen. Hegar has not decided whether he will re-file the bill in the state’s next legislative session, according to Lauren Wied, a legislative aide.
The Catfish Institute is not proposing legislation in Texas or other states that would ban imports of catfish or pangasius from China and Vietnam. Instead, the industry wants to strengthen U.S. rules on testing because of concerns about antibiotics and other restricted chemicals found in some imports. “The FDA tests only 2 percent of all seafood imports while the European Union tests twice as much seafood as the U.S. does,” McCord said.
U.S. catfish farmers are concerned about imports because Asian fish farmers are allowed to use antibiotics such as nitrofurans, which are banned for use in U.S. food production because it is a known carcinogen, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report. “Because of FDA's limited sampling, some of the more than 2.5 million metric tons of shrimp and 156,000 metric tons of catfish imports that entered the United States during fiscal years 2006 through 2009 could have contained residues of nitrofurans,” the GAO report stated.
In fact, the FDA refused entry of four shipments of Vietnamese pangasius tainted with nitrofuran last month.
Even though the FDA is not testing all catfish imports, Dr. Joan Holt, with the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, testified that some states such as Alabama have stepped up testing of imports. Instead of placing more regulations on imports, however, Holt suggested that Texas step up its catfish aquaculture production. “As populations increase and as we need more seafood, it’s going to have to come from aquaculture. So, are we going to continue to import all these fishes — aquaculture species — or are we going to produce them ourselves?” Holt said.
14 September, 2012