ANNOUNCED AS TEMPORARYNo
Sanitary and phytosanitary measure
On December 2, 2015 the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a final rule requiring continuous inspection of catfish and catfish products. According to FSIS, the regulations are intended to ensure that catfish products distributed in commerce are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged. The move nevertheless came in response to demands from a domestic industry association that hoped to increase the regulatory burden imposed on its foreign competition. The new rues took effect March 1, 2016.
At issue is the implementation of a provision in the 2008 farm bill, more formally known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-246). Section 11016 of that law provided for the transfer of catfish regulation and inspection duties from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to FSIS. Some believe that the FSIS, as an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, might be more sympathetic to the interests of the domestic industry than is the FDA. The law nevertheless left it up to the Secretary of Agriculture to decide how this transfer will be accomplished, including the question of whether the same standards are to be applied to imported catfish as are currently required of U.S. pond-raised catfish. Also at issue is the precise definition of which fish that will be made subject to these rules.
The industry association Catfish Farmers of America has pursued a campaign to require stricter inspection of imported catfish for three years. Their campaign has included the purchase of advertising in major publications such as the Washington Post, as well as public-policy journals that are not widely read outside of Washington (e.g., Politico and Roll Call). Full details on the group's campaign are posted at http://www.uscatfish.com/catfish-farmers-of-america-news.html. The group's efforts are supported by the Consumer Federation of America, Food and Water Watch, and Safe Tables Our Priority.
The Catfish Farmers of America based their campaign on the claim that catfish imported from countries such as Vietnam are unsafe for consumers. 'Among the two percent of seafood imports from Vietnam inspected by the FDA during a recent four-year period,' according to one of the group's fact sheets, 'nearly one in every five seafood shipments, including catfish, was contaminated with potentially deadly chemicals or drugs that are banned by the United States infarm-raised catfish, according to the FDA.' One press account noted the irony that 'the Catfish Farmers of America uses reports of rejected catfish imports as evidence that FDA is failing to do its job.'
This same industry previously tried to restrict imports of catfish from Vietnam through other measures. It managed in 2001 to win enactment of a law prohibiting the product imported from Vietnam from being labeled for sale as 'catfish,'* and in 2003 to have anti-dumping duties imposed on this product (which were continued in a notice published on July 10, 2009).
* : Section 755 of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-76) provided that 'None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act to the Food and Drug Administration shall be used to allow admission of fish or fish products labeled wholly or in part as 'catfish' unless the products are taxonomically from the family Ictaluridae.'
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