U.S. catfish farmers applaud USDA rule
Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) is applauding the much-anticipated rule for inspecting and grading domestic and imported catfish.
Due to be published in Thursday’s Federal Register, the rule would shift oversight of catfish to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The rule stems from a measure included in the 2008 Farm Bill passed by Congress in June 2008, but it has been delayed for more than two years.
The CFA said food-safety is the U.S. catfish industry’s “highest priority,” and there is a need to strengthen inspection of both domestic and imported catfish. Citing Government Accountability Office data, the CFA said only 2 percent of all U.S. seafood imports are inspected.
“We are extremely pleased that the USDA has recommended stricter regulation of catfish, which will mean greater protection for American consumers,” said CFA President Joey Lowery. “The USDA has determined there is a clear need for a stronger catfish food-safety inspection system.”
Additionally, the CFA supports a proposal that all catfish varieties in the order Siluriformes — including the families Ictaluridae, Pangasiidae and Clariidae — be classified as “catfish.” A 2002 law backed by U.S. catfish industry mandates that only fish in the Ictaluridae family be labeled as “catfish.” Whether the law would need to be rescinded remains unclear.
“We are certain that based on the food-safety risks it cites in the draft regulation, USDA will determine that all catfish products — domestic and imported — sold in America should meet the same rigorous standards for quality and safety,” said Lowery. “That is the only way to ensure that every catfish sold in a grocery store or served in a restaurant or school cafeteria is safe from contamination or harmful chemicals that aren’t allowed here in the U.S.”
Once it’s published in the Federal Register, the draft rule will be subject to a 120-day public-comment period before it’s finalized.
The rule has drawn a lot of criticism from imported seafood interests, including the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers and the National Fisheries Institute, which see it as more of a protectionist issue than a food-safety issue.