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Food Safety Website SAFECATFISH.COM Launched Today

Highlights Dangers of Imported Catfish

For Immediate Release:
May 24, 2010

A new food safety website promoting tougher inspections and regulation of imported and domestic catfish is being launched Monday, May 24, at www.safecatfish.com.

The website exposes the health and safety dangers to American consumers created by the Food and Drug Administration’s weak inspection system for imported seafood. The site includes a graphic new investigative report, “Dirty Waters, Dangerous Fish,” which shows current evidence of unsafe catfish farming practices along the polluted and contaminated Mekong River in Vietnam.

Currently the FDA, which is responsible for the inspection of catfish and other seafood, inspects only two percent of the 5.2 billion pounds of seafood imported into the United States from foreign countries, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Among the two percent of seafood imports from Vietnam inspected by the FDA during a recent four-year period, nearly one in every five shipments was found to contain catfish and other seafood products contaminated with potentially deadly chemicals or drugs that are banned by the United States in farm-raised catfish, according to FDA records.

The U.S. Congress, responding to evidence of serious problems with the quality of imported catfish, voted two years ago to move catfish inspections and regulation from the FDA to USDA. This important food safety law has become entangled in bureaucratic red tape, and is now being threatened by yet more delays. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which has no authority over food safety issues, is holding up the law over concerns that protecting U.S. consumers could harm Vietnamese fish farmers and U.S.-Vietnamese trade relations.

The new website, www.safecatfish.com, also will post on Monday a new series of letters between Congressional offices and the federal agencies involved in enforcing the law that reveal political efforts to dilute important food safety protections.

The political attempts to derail the law designed to protect American consumers comes as the amount of catfish imported to the United States from Vietnam is increasing dramatically. Vietnamese catfish imports have quadrupled in the past five years from 19 million pounds in 2004 to 85 million in 2009, according to U.S. government figures.

The website also provides links to numerous Vietnamese and other Asian news media accounts of Vietnamese government officials warning their own catfish farmers to improve farm safety practices, halt the use of drugs banned in other countries and upgrade the quality of the water used in their catfish ponds.


USDA Catfish Inspections – Unresolved

By David Bennett
Delta Farm Press Editorial Staff
May 20, 2010 (10:25 AM)

As part of the 2008 farm bill, Congress instructed the USDA to expand its inspections of meat and poultry products to catfish.

The inspections were supposed to begin within six months of the farm bill’s passage. U.S. catfish producers welcomed the expansion since it would make their product more attractive to U.S. consumers and would mean Asian imports would finally be properly inspected.

Now, nearly two years later, the inspections remain tied up in bureaucratic red tape. Catfish imports continue to move into U.S. markets with little scrutiny. A measure of the problem: In 2008, a paltry 2 percent of over 5 billion pounds of imported seafood was inspected.

The reason for the holdup is trade. For fear of upsetting Asian trading partners the U.S. Trade Representative office has held off issuing a rule on the inspections.

For more, go here and here.

Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been pushing for the farm bill rule to be fully implemented. Reached in mid-May, staff say the senator “continues to stress the importance of food safety and urge that USDA inspect all catfish imports as the farm bill called for.”

In a recent release, the Mississippi-based Delta Council weighed in, saying, “Food safety equivalency standards must be implemented by USDA if the U.S. consumer is to expect the same level of quality control in catfish that consumers currently enjoy with beef, poultry, and pork.”

Further, Lester Myers, Delta Council Aquaculture Committee chairman, said, “Congress passed a law in 2008 requiring the inspection of our domestic catfish industry and foreign imports, but the (Obama) administration has been dragging its feet in implementing the final rules to support the law which Congress passed that we believe is due to a fear of trade retaliation by Asian countries with a track record of sending contaminated fish to the U.S.

“Why should the American consumer be able to get beef, poultry and pork at the marketplace, whether a restaurant or grocery store, that has been inspected by USDA, but farm-raised catfish grown in the United States and abroad doesn’t meet the same equivalency standards in terms of food safety?”

Myers continued: “The bottom line is that the Congress passed a law, the (Obama) administration is flatly refusing to implement the law due to pressure by the Washington lobby for foreign countries, and the food safety issues associated with these imported fish are being swept under the rug.”

Reached at his central Arkansas operation, Joey Lowery, president of Catfish Farmers of America, agrees with Myers.

“Right now, we’re still waiting and trying to be patient,” said Lowery. “There are a lot of rumors about when the rule might come down. Things have been very hush-hush since it went into the inter-agency process. The rule will come out and when it does we’ll have to make sure the proper thing has been done.

“But when the ruling does come down it’s not over — the process will shift to a comment period. This is a food safety issue and, the way I see it, everyone is losing.”

As of mid-May, how is the catfish season progressing?

“I think sales have been decent,” said Lowery. “Plants have had good sales, the weather has been fairly good and we’re feeding now.”

Unfortunately feed costs remain high.

“Producers have their hands full because of that and potentially higher fuel costs,” said Lowery. “To survive, producers will have to be really good managers — nothing will be easy.

“So, even though prices for catfish are good the costs of inputs are higher, as well. That higher catfish price isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Producers are still not receiving enough to maintain operations. We need more money for our fish — that, or feed and input costs to come down.”

Could there be a boost for aquaculture if the oil spill in the Gulf hampers fishing?

“I think it could,” said Lowery. “There haven’t been a lot of folks commenting on it. But there may be some replacement of Gulf shrimp and oysters with farm-raised catfish. I wish hardship on no one, but if the spill means that seafood is inedible I hope consumers turn to our catfish.”

Vietnam: Unqualified seafood for export on alarm

Vietnam News Summary
May 6, 2010

Along with facing the unrecovered export price and the material shortage, seafood companies also have to confront many difficulties when many Vietnam’s seafood shipments for export violated seriously the food quality standards in the first three months of 2010.

Through examining the residues of banned chemicals and antibiotic at enterprises, it showed that the main reason of Vietnam’s unqualified seafood came from the pre-processing period such as breeding, material preservation after catching. So, Vietnam is proposed to strengthen the supervision on import, distribution and usage of veterinary medicines.

Vietnam Association for Seafood Exporters and Processors (Vasep) reported that the number of Vietnamese seafood processors and exporters having good preparation for getting Certificate of Origin (C/O) and Global GAP of EU is very small.

In January-April, the country’s seafood export earned $1.2 billion dong including $350 million of April, growing by 17.4 percent year-on-year. EU continues leading Vietnam’s seafood buyers, followed by Japan and US. The target of seafood export turnover at $4.5 billion in 2010, a year-on-year growth of 7.1 percent can be reached but Vietnam could miss the target if not dealing with the aforementioned problem absolutely.