FDA bans basa fish

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

A future ban on Vietnamese-imported fish into the United States is music to the ears of catfish producers locally.

Responding to pressure from an Arkansas congressman, the FDA is considering a blanket ban on all Vietnamese basa fish, which were originally marketed as Vietnamese catfish.

The fish directly competes with farm-catfish producers in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Recently, the Alabama agriculture department announced a ban on the fish until antibiotic tests could be completed on shipments of the fish into the state.

We’ve known all along that a lot of farm products were brought into this country with chemicals and antibiotics in them,&8221; David Pearce, of Pearce Catfish farms alleged. &8220;There’s been several shiploads they’ve found that had the antibiotics.&8221;

The antibiotic referred to is illegal for use by U.S. farmers, according to releases, for fear that it could cause allergic reactions in consumers or create new, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Dallas County Catfish producer Butch Wilson, Chairman of the Alabama Catfish Producers, said the ban is another reason for shoppers to appreciate country-of-origin labeling. The labeling was recently instituted due to requests from state and national farm organizations.

For Wilson, the labeling was an issue of food safety for consumers.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks recently banned the sale of Vietnamese-imported seafood in the state after a similar order was issued in Louisiana that resulted in nearly 350 tons of Vietnamese seafood being taken off the market.

Sparks issued the order August 12 and said it will remain in effect until all basa fish in the state can be tested for fluoroquinolones – antibiotics outlawed for agricultural use in the U.S.

Fluoroquinolones are antibiotics used to treat tuberculosis, pneumonia and other infections in people and sometimes added to fish food in other countries. They are forbidden in food in the United States, Canada and Europe because of worries that germs could become resistant to them, thus rendering the antibiotics less effective in fighting infections.

Alabama raises more catfish per acre of water than any other state and ranks second only to Mississippi in annual sales. More than 600 million pounds of U.S. farm-raised catfish are processed each year, while only 9 million pounds of basa are imported into the United States. For more information about Alabama catfish, visit www.AlabamaCatfishProducers.com

While producers welcome the ban, some say it isn’t clear yet what affect the ban will have on profits.

While taste tests indicate that consumers prefer the basa fish to U.S.-raised catfish, according to the Associated Press, Pearce said he is confident that American catfish will win out in the end.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.