Sessions fighting for catfish screening

Published 1:40pm Sunday, July 20, 2014

Months after the 2014 Farm Bill’s passage, and six years after its 2008 approval, a catfish inspection program remains in limbo, with regulations undecided.

The 2008 Farm Bill established a U.S. Department of Agriculture catfish inspection Program.

At the time, the Food and Drug Administration conducted random testing on imported catfish. The bill required regulations be established within 18 months of enactment.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., pushed for the USDA inspection program’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill following months of inaction.

The 2014 Farm Bill required final regulation within 60 days of enactment.

The USDA has submitted a draft of final regulations to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. The USDA is currently scheduled to publish a final rule by the end of 2014.

Thursday, Sessions continued his push for the program’s implementation by sending a letter to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, asking for a timeline for the program’s implementation.

“We understand the USDA submitted a draft final rule to the Office of Management and Budget on May 30, 2014,” the letter states. “Given the long delay in reaching this point, we ask that no later than Aug. 15, 2014, you provide us with a timeline for completion of the regulations.Once the final regulation are issued, we look forward to seeing that they comport with the intent of Congress to ensure fair and equitable treatment to all catfish, domestically produced and imported.”

After sending the letter Thursday, Sessions released a statement describing the value of ensuring fairness between foreign and domestically produced fish.

“The catfish industry is critical to many of our rural communities and important to our state’s economy,” Sessions said in the release. “Allowing foreign producers to undergo less rigorous inspections than U.S. producers cannot continue. I urge the Office of Management and Budget to ensure fairness and effectiveness in catfish inspections.”

Following the catfish inspection program’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill, passed in February, farmers also touted the benefits of a potential USDA program.

Among the supporters was Butch Wilson, a Black Belt catfish farmer and president of Catfish Farmers of America.  Wilson said a USDA program could lead to more proactive inspections and prevent harmful contaminants from entering the country.

The FDA reportedly inspects two percent of the total amount of catfish entering the country.

“The biggest problem is that the public can’t distinguish between an American catfish and an imported one, unless they take a close look at the label,” Wilson said in February.

The 2013 U.S. Catfish Database, released in April by Auburn University professor Dr. Terry Hanson, found frozen catfish imports account for 75 percent of all U.S. sales.Though, the U.S. catfish industry sold 33.4 million more pounds of fish in 2013 than 2012, according to the database.

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