Monday, November 30, 2009

Struggling To Survive

By Jeff Moore • For the Daily World • November 29, 2009

Competition from overseas has held fish prices in check during the last decade, while production costs have increased steadily with inflation and rising costs of feed.
As a result, catfish pond acreage in the U.S. has declined by more than a third in the last decade.
Those that remain are fighting back against imports by waging a campaign to establish U.S. catfish as a superior product.
Farmers have backed federal and state labeling laws requiring restaurants and grocery stores to label their catfish by country of origin, a move they hope will help jumpstart domestic production.
"We're like a frog in the bottom of a barrel right now," said Steve Stephens, president of the Louisiana Catfish Farmers Association. "We're looking for anything right now that can help us."
Catfish is the leading aquaculture industry in the United States, with about 500 million pounds processed domestically in 2008.
About 95 percent of the nation's catfish comes from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Soaring feed prices and an influx of cheap imports have cut into catfish production in recent years.
Production peaked at 660 million pounds in 2003, but has been decreasing ever since, according to Catfish Farmers of America.
Catfish production has dropped off at an even faster rate in Louisiana, from 65.7 million pounds of catfish in 1999 to 19.9 million pounds in 2008.
Louisiana currently has about 4,400 acres of catfish ponds, down about 10,000 acres since 1999.
"We've lost a lot of producers in the last five years," said Stephens. "With the economics like they are, the biggest factor is low prices."
For Stephens, the downturn started three years ago, when rising prices for soybeans, corn, and wheat caused feed prices to skyrocket.
Catfish prices, meanwhile, have lagged around 70 cents a pound for the past decade, with imports from countries like Vietnam and China keeping prices low.
Stephens said his own North Louisiana farm has faced "huge losses" over the past two years, forcing him to scale back his farming operation by 50 percent.
"Just about everybody I know in this business is cutting back," he said.
The situation isn't much better for wild-caught catfish, the production of which has also dropped substantially this decade.
Henderson Mayor Sherbin Collette has been fishing commercially in the Atchafalaya Basin for most of his life, and has never seen market conditions as tough as they are now.
"Imports hurt everything — shrimp, crawfish, catfish, you name it," Collette said. "It's crippled us to a point where we're barely surviving."
Collette faces additional challenges as a commercial fisherman — including competition from catfish farms.
Wild-caught fish sell for a lower price — about 45-50 cents a pound — and are often passed over by wholesalers in favor of pond-raised fish, Collette said.
"There's no market for wild fish," he said.
Collette sells most of his catch to local seafood restaurants and individual customers out of a shop near his home. But it's getting tough to make a living, he said.
"I hope I never have to stop, because this is my first love," he said.
Some relief may come in the form of new laws passed during this year's Legislative session.
The Louisiana Catfish Marketing Law, sponsored by state Rep. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, requires restaurants and retailers to label any catfish they sell with the country of origin.
Castille said agriculture officials are currently developing a certification program to implement the law, and should begin performing inspections early next year.
State Rep. Fred Mills, D-St. Martinville, authored a separate bill that seeks to launch a "public safety marketing campaign" to warn consumers of possible health hazards of eating Chinese seafood and touting the benefits of state-grown and caught seafood.
Also created was a Seafood Safety Task Force to further study Chinese seafood and report back to the Legislature.
Catfish farmers have long complained that substandard aquaculture is practiced in Asian countries.
Vietnam has built a burgeoning industry raising catfish in ponds and cages along the Mekong River.
"Most of these fish are raised in pens in polluted areas," Stephens said. "They can bring that filet, even after shipping, for half of what we're trying to do it at a loss right now."
The industry is also trying to address imports by adding catfish to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety program. The USDA currently regulates all meat products, but does not inspect seafood. The inspection of seafood is now administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Have a laugh, a little late, but still good

For this Thanksgiving, think outside the bird. Serve catfish.


But seriously, fellow patriots, the Catfish Farmers of America warn that billions of imported foreign catfish are coming into this country and only 2 percent are inspected for, say, Mad Catfish Disease.


And when the Indians helped the pilgrims prepare Thanksgiving dinner, the catfish did not come from Vietnam.


Let me suggest a slogan for the Catfish Farmers of America: "Safe sex -- safe catfish -- safe America."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Contaminated Asian Catfish Discovered by Alabama Labs

Nov 19, 2009 10:19 AM, From Catfish Farmers of America

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries halt on the sale of imported Asian catfish and related fish contaminated by banned drugs underscores the urgency of implementing a congressionally-approved law for tough USDA inspections and regulations of imported catfish and catfish-like products, according to the Catfish Farmers of America.

The contaminated catfish products tested positive for antibiotic fluoroquinolones banned for use in fish or other seafood products sold in the United States because of the health and safety danger to consumers.

Alabama’s findings come as USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is weighing a decision on how to implement a law approved by Congress last year shifting responsibility for the inspection and regulation of imported and domestic catfish and related fish from the FDA to the USDA. That law requires that catfish and catfish-like products meet the same stringent USDA health and safety standards as beef, poultry and pork.

“The contamination found in the Asian fish tested by Alabama authorities demonstrates the urgency of this health and safety issue,” said Joey Lowery, president of the Catfish Farmers of America. “We need Sec. Vilsack to enact this law now in the most comprehensive manner possible. It will help ensure that all imported catfish and catfish relatives meet the toughest regulations and inspections that will protect American consumers and make certain that imported fish meet the same standards for quality and safety as our U.S. farm-raised catfish.”

Last year, the FDA inspected only 2 percent of the 5.2 billion pounds of seafood imported into the United States, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Congress, responding to evidence of problems with the quality of imported catfish and related fish, voted as part of the 2008 farm bill to move inspections and regulation of those fish to the USDA.

Vilsack, who has made food safety one of his top priorities, is now considering whether to require that all domestic and imported catfish and related fish — including basa, pangasius and swai from Southeast Asia — meet USDA standards, or only domestic and Chinese catfish.

Chinese catfish represented only 29.7 percent of all foreign catfish products imported into the United States in 2008. Imports from Vietnam totaled 52.2 percent of foreign catfish-like products sold in America, and another 12.3 percent were from Thailand.

“Applying USDA regulations to only Chinese imports will not provide the protection American consumers need,” Lowery said.

The Alabama laboratory test results found the high percentages of contamination among the catfish relatives imported from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and China.

Among the 2 percent of seafood inspections conducted by the FDA in the first nine months of this year, authorities found Vietnamese basa — a catfish-like fish — contaminated with salmonella and illegal veterinary drugs, according to the FDA’s Import Refusals data base. Fully 98 percent of all seafood imports entering the United States from foreign countries are not inspected, according to Lowery.

“There is absolutely no way to determine whether all these imports are safe from contamination or harmful chemicals that aren’t allowed here in the U.S.,” said Lowery. “We want USDA approval that every catfish product imported into America meets the same rigorous standards for quality and safety as our U.S. farm-raised catfish.”

Alabama Commissioner Ron Sparks, in calling a halt to the sale of contaminated imported Asian catfish and related fish, said contaminated fish “will never make it to the dinner plates in Alabama.”

“Our question is: Why should the rest of American consumers have to wait for the same protection from their government?” said Lowery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

USDA Delay Harmful

Nov 17, 2009 10:39 AM, By David Bennett, Farm Press Editorial Staff

Currently, the USDA takes on the inspection of meat and poultry imported into the United States. However, it does not inspect imported seafood, leaving that to the Food and Drug Administration.

In a case of something written into the 2008 farm bill that’s yet to be enacted, U.S. catfish producers are pointing at the USDA’s failure to inspect seafood imports.

Currently, the USDA takes on the inspection of meat and poultry imported into the United States. However, it does not inspect imported seafood, leaving that to the Food and Drug Administration.

The USDA is shirking its responsibility, say critics. That’s because, behind a strong push by U.S. aquaculture interests during the farm bill debate, Congress shifted regulation of catfish products from the FDA to the USDA.

To the chagrin of U.S. catfish producers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — despite claims that food safety is among his top priorities — has failed to place all catfish products under USDA jurisdiction.

“We got that in the 2008 farm bill,” says a frustrated Joey Lowery, president of Catfish Farmers of America and a catfish farmer in northeast Arkansas’ Jackson County. “It seemed like a natural for the catfish industry to be under the USDA, as they already inspect all the meat, poultry and dairy products.

“And catfish farming is no different than any other type. It’s the largest aquaculture industry in the country.”

A USDA inspection regime would be “a way to elevate the quality of our product. I can tell you all day long how good the product is and we can spend a lot of money on promotion. But being validated through USDA inspection will do a lot more for catfish.”

This is not the first time U.S. catfish producers have warned inspections are too lax (for more, see Catfish import ban bolsters farmers’ claims).

With the FDA’s paltry inspection numbers for imported seafood, Lowery says, the U.S. populace is likely unwittingly consuming unhealthy products.

“FDA has had the job of inspecting seafood. Part of that is checking imports from China, Vietnam and other countries that export fish to the United States. China ships channels cats to us, just like those we grow. Vietnam ships in basa, tra, and pangasius which are sometimes referred to as ‘Vietnamese catfish.’”

Over the past four years, “something like one of every four shipments inspected has been turned back by our inspectors. But FDA inspections only look at around 2 percent of the imported shipments! And last year, there was something like 5.2 billion pounds of seafood that came into the country.”
Extrapolate the high percentage of FDA rejections along with the low number of inspections and Lowery’s concern is evident.

“Ending in May of 2009, in a one-year period, FDA refused entry to 14 shipments of Vietnamese tra and basa. That’s a bit over one rejection per month. But, again, they’re only inspecting 2 percent of the shipments. So the odds aren’t really good on the other 98 percent.

“In my view, one bad shipment that makes its way into the United States is unacceptable. USDA inspections — which are stringent and a daily deal — should take care of that.”

A big problem: how to define “catfish.” As with inspection of imported fish, this is not a new issue for catfish producers (for more, see Call it basa, call it tra, it ain't genuine catfish and U.S., Vietnam in word battle over catfish).

“So, do officials use the narrow definition of ‘catfish’ and inspect only channels? Or do we deal with broader definitions which would encompass the Vietnamese fish? Obviously, we’re pushing for the broader language.”

Cases of illegal import mislabeling also continue (for more, see LDAF stops sale of mislabeled catfish) . But even if the imported product is labeled correctly, says Lowery “the U.S. marketers are still marketing these fish as a substitute for U.S. farm-raised catfish. If they want to be a substitute, they must adhere to the same standards we have to.”

When might the USDA take on seafood inspections?

“Right now, this is in USDA’s hands and they’ll make a recommendation,” says Lowery. “It will then go to OMB (the Office of Budget and Management) for 60 to 90 days. OMB will then come out with a rule. After that, there will be a 60-day public comment period. Following that, within 30 days a final rule will be issued.”

So it could be next spring before a final ruling is announced?

“That’s what I’m thinking, yes. It’s about a 180-day process after it leaves USDA.”

Asked how Southern catfish farmers have done in 2009, Lowery says, “Feed costs have been a big issue for catfish growers. With commodity prices, the feed price has been jacked up.”
Fuel has been a bit cheaper than in 2008. “But our input costs are very high — just like with row-crop producers. Like everyone else, we’ve had a lot of rain and that probably prevented some feeding of fish. We haven’t been able to secure a good price to stabilize things and make operations profitable.”

Like other industry leaders, Lowery “unfortunately” sees “some more catfish acreage going out of production. There’s a good possibility that will happen. I know some farmers that had some under-stock they are feeding. When those fish are sold, they’ll probably be done.”

The U.S. catfish industry needs “something positive to happen, something to hang our hat on. Getting the right inspection language would be a big boost, I think.”

The current tough economy “has had an effect on people eating out, and we’ve probably lost around 25 percent of production in the industry in the last couple of years. We peaked out at around 600 million pounds. In 2008, the high was a little over 500 million pounds. This year, processed weight will probably be under 500 million — maybe 450 million to 500 million pounds.”

Delta Catfish May Soon Be Checked by USDA

MS DELTA (WLBT) - The Delta's Catfish industry hopes it will soon be checked for safety by the USDA.

The Delta Council Board Of Directors, a group of agricultural and business interests endorsed a proposal to add catfish to the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Program.

The proposal is supported by the Catfish Farmers Of America. Catfish farmers also want the Obama administration to include Vietnamese imports as catfish so they also can be covered by the new inspections. The USDA regulates all meat products but not seafood . Those inspections are conducted by the food and drug administration.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Catfish Farmers Want Stricter Regulations

by Hanna Raskin (Subscribe to Hanna Raskin's posts)
Posted Nov 13th 2009 11:00AM

Just as Southeastern oyster producers are clamoring for the government to stay out of their business, catfish farmers have launched a new ad campaign asking for more regulation of their industry.

"All catfish should be treated equally!," proclaims the Catfish Farmers of America's full-page ad targeting the USDA. The trade group's ads began appearing late last month in major publications, including the Washington Post.

Catfish farmers contend imported seafood should be held to the same stringent standards now applied to imported beef, poultry and pork. Unlike those commodities, which are inspected by the USDA, imported seafood is the domain of the FDA. According to government reports, only 2 percent of the 5.2 billion pounds of seafood that entered the U.S. last year was inspected.

"People are taking it for granted that everything's inspected, and they need to know what's going on," CFA president Joey Lowery says. "This is something that shouldn't even be negotiable, food safety for the American people."

The catfish industry has spent the better part of the last decade lobbying legislators behind-the-scenes and orchestrating letter-writing campaigns for increased inspections, but Lowery says the new ads represent the most aggressive stratagem yet. A CFA release claims that's because lawmakers have "reached a critical point."

Congress last year voted to shift catfish inspection authority to the USDA, but the bill didn't specifically define catfish. The Department of Agriculture is now considering whether its inspectors will be looking at all catfish-like fish or just those grown in channels. American catfish farmers are enthusiastically backing the broad definition.

"The only country raising channel fish is China," grumbles Lowery. "If the narrow definition is put in place, inspections will not be very effective."

Only 27 percent of imported catfish are channel fish, Lowery adds.

If the USDA endorses the narrow definition, the decision will provide a fitting cap for what industry insiders generally agree has been a miserable few years for catfish farmers. In a release issued by the University of Arkansas to mark National Catfish Month this past August, extension aquaculture specialist Steve Pomerleau was quoted as calling the last two years the "most difficult" in the industry's history. Rising feed prices and increased competition from abroad have conspired to put many farmers out of business.

"We've lost acreage, we've lost producers," Lowery says.

Still, Lowery is hoping he'll be able to add a notch to the industry's win column after Secretary Tom Vilsack decrees what counts as catfish.

"We're making it harder on ourselves to prove the quality of our product," Lowery says of the request featured in the group's newspaper ads. "Anyone coming in should adhere to those same standards

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Catfish Farmers Seek Inclusion

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 12:54 PM CST

STONEVILLE — No matter where or how it is grown, all food produced for human consumption should be subject to rigorous safety inspections, according to U.S. catfish farmers and their advocates.

The Delta Council’s Board of Directors passed a aquaculture resolution at its 75th anniversary midyear board of directors meeting last week seeking inclusion of the catfish industry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food safety inspection program.

The resolution calls upon the agency and the Mississippi congressional delegation to work with the catfish industry to immediately authorize new oversight of aquaculture products.

“We want the USDA to treat catfish just like it does beef, pork and poultry,” said John Phillips, chairman of the Delta Council executive committee, at the Nov. 6 meeting.

The measure is supported by Catfish Farmers of America, which has asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to enact legislative provisions in the 2008 farm bill to ensure that domestic and imported catfish meet health and safety standards. The USDA currently regulates all meat products, but it does not inspect seafood.

The inspection of imported seafood is now administered by the Food and Drug Administration, but it reportedly inspected only 2 percent of all seafood, including catfish, in 2008, according to the catfish farmers association.

Only catfish and other species within the catfish family would be shifted from the purview of the FDA to the USDA under the proposal backed by the Delta Council and the catfish farmers group.

The U.S. reportedly imported 5.2 billion pounds of seafood in 2008.

The catfish farmers group complains that seafood processing lobbying groups, such as the National Fisheries Institute, are trying to get USDA inspections limited to “channel” catfish raised on domestic catfish farms and imported from China. That would leave out Vietnam’s species of “tra” and “basa,” which is from the catfish family.

The group claims that catfish grown in Vietnam comes from the Mekong River Delta, which reportedly is muddy and polluted with dangerous chemicals, and that one in five shipments inspected by the FDA in 2008 was refused entry to the U.S. because of contamination by illegal substances.

U.S. catfish farmers have long complained that substandard aquaculture is practiced in Asian countries. But critics of the group claim its motivation has more to do with profits than concerns about consumer safety.

Concerns have been raised that the catfish fight could lead to Vietnam purchasing smaller amounts of beef from the U.S. It is now the third-largest importer of American beef.

Joey Lowery, president of Catfish Farmers of America, said that his group’s only motivation is consumer safety.

“U.S. consumers currently believe that their seafood is subject to the same rigorous inspection standards as those imposed on meat and poultry products,” Lowery said in a letter published on the group’s Website. “However, that is not the case under the existing Food and Drug Administration standards, and the domestic catfish industry is dedicated to fighting for increased consumer food safety.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Alabama issues stop sale order on Asian catfish

Tuesday, November 10, 2009, 03:10 (GMT + 9)

Commissioner Ron Sparks of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries announced on Wednesday a Stop Sale on catfish and basa products imported from Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, China and Vietnam due to positive results for the antibiotic fluoroquinolones.

A total of 40 samples of basa type products and catfish were tested from the five Asian countries, out of which 18 product samples yielded positive results for fluoroquinolones.

Fluoroquinolones and quinolones are chemotherapeutic bactericidal drugs used to kill bacteria by interfering with their DNA replication. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow the use of fluoroquinolones in seafood.

Sparks has issued nine orders of suspension from sale or movement for 486 cases of product weighing 8,840 lbs. These products were either voluntarily destroyed or returned to the importer after the Alabama Department notified the FDA of the drug traces.

The Alabama Department’s detection reporting limit is 1 part per billion (ppb) or greater. In the results, 17 samples were in the 1-5ppb range and one sample tested greater than 50ppb.

The basa type products tested were swai, sutchi and pangasius. Out of 19 Vietnamese samples, 12 tested positive; both Cambodian samples tested positive; one of three Indonesian samples tested positive; one of seven Thai samples tested positive; and one Chinese sample tested positive.

Also, one of eight samples of Chinese channel catfish tested positive.

Product samples continue to be collected and tested. Enforcement action will be implemented as necessary.

“The Automatic Stop Sale Order criteria established in April of 2007 is still in effect,” stated Sparks. “This series of tests that we have just completed indicates the importance of the continuation of the Stop Sale Order.”

By Natalia Real

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Alabama Bans Asian Catish For Contamination

by Dan Flynn | Nov 05, 2009
A Stop Sale order on imported catfish and basa product from Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, China and Vietnam has been re-imposed by the State of Alabama.

Commissioner Ron Sparks of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries announced the state-imposed ban at a press conference in Montgomery late Wednesday afternoon.

The announcement was certain to delight domestic catfish farmers who have punched buttons at both the state and federal levels to limit foreign fish imports to the United States.

Sparks said the Asian fish products tested positive for fluoroquinolones.

Quinolones and fluoroquinolones are chemotherapeutic bactericidal drugs, used for eradicating bacteria by interfering with DNA replication.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow the use of fluoroquinolones in fish or seafood.

Alabama tested 40 samples of basa type products and catfish from the five countries; 18 samples came back positive for fluoroquinolones.

Commissioner Sparks has issued nine suspensions from sale or movement orders for 486 cases of product (8,840 lbs).

This product has been either voluntarily destroyed or returned to the importer of record after the Department has notified the FDA.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries detection reporting limit for fluoroquinolones is 1 part per billion (ppb) or greater.

Seventeen samples were in the 1-5ppb range and one sample tested greater than 50ppb. Product samples continue to be collected and tested and enforcement action will be implemented as necessary.

With the action, Alabama continues "Automatic Stop Sale Order" criteria established in April 2007.

"This series of tests that we have just completed indicates the importance of the continuation of the Stop Sale Order," Sparks said.

Test Results:

Basa Type Products (swai, sutchi, pangasius)

•Vietnam: 12 of 19 tested positive
•Cambodia: 2 of 2 tested positive
•Indonesia: 1 of 3 tested positive
•Thailand: 1 of 7 tested positive
•China: 1 of 1 tested positive

Channel Catfish

•China: 1 of 8 tested positive