Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009
Time to finish the details of the Catfish Inspection Program
The 2008 Farm Bill set out a number of broad issues — priorities if you will. However, those priorities are often put to the side when it comes to the government agencies charged with writing the rules and regulations. Or the issue can be starved to death for lack of funding.
Such could be the case with the Catfish Inspection Program. The United States Department of Agriculture is writing the rules to start such an inspection program and it will also need funding for the program to be fully implemented. There are two very important elected officials who will have a direct hand in providing that funding: Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, who serves on the House Agriculture Appropriations Sub-Committee.
There is pressure on some members of Congress to scuttle the inspection program because it would require foreign producers of catfish — China and Vietnam — to adhere to the same regulations U.S. producers have to follow, and that has created some push back. Vietnam has threatened a trade war and informed lawmakers from beef producing states that export to Vietnam that it is concerned about what form the catfish regulations might take.
Here is the simple answer lawmakers should give to any who question the prime directive to keep the American food supply chain safe: Back off. With the reputation foreign producers have in the world they should be thankful to see a USDA stamp on their exports. But no, they are far from happy because the manner in which they raise their fish does not, many times, meet U.S. standards. The Consumer Federation of America reported that the FDA had “rejected catfish products imported from China, Thailand and Vietnam, a total of 31 times” since June 2008. “In the majority of the cases, (these fish contained) unsafe animal drug residues ... and five of the imports from Vietnam were also prohibited from entering the U.S. because they were filthy, putrid, or because they tested positive for salmonella.”
The Chinese and Vietnamese have known these inspections would eventually come; still, they haven’t cleaned up their act or their fish. That will continue if regulations are stalled or underfunded. With the number of fish imported from suspect countries, Congress and the FDA have a duty to make those imports as safe as domestically produced fish. To do otherwise is fiscally and morally wrong.
— Charles E. Richardson,