Washington, D.C.— Today, a coalition of consumer and advocacy organizations including Food & Water Watch, the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League and United Food & Commercial Workers International Union called on the Office of Management and Budget to create an inspection program for domestic and imported catfish. The 2008 Farm Bill mandated the creation of such a program, to be administered by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which was supposed to be implemented by December 2009.
“In 2013, Americans consumed more than 305 million pounds of catfish, 78 percent of which was imported, mostly from Vietnam,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Americans want to be sure that the catfish they eat and feed their families is safe, yet bowing to pressure from importers and other nations, the Obama administration continues to hold up the implementation of this important rule. Enough is enough.”
The Food and Drug Administration currently regulates catfish. Domestic catfish processors are subject to FDA inspections once every 5 to 10 years and only 2 percent of imported catfish gets inspected. The new inspection program would subject domestic catfish processors to daily USDA inspection, and imported catfish, much of which is raised in unsanitary conditions and is treated with antibiotics and other chemicals that have been deemed to be illegal in the U.S., would receive more rigorous inspection by the USDA.
There is clear scientific evidence that the residues of chemicals used in aquaculture can remain in the edible portion of the fish through harvesting, processing and consumption. The FDA has determined that the potential immediate and long-range human health consequences may include hypersensitivity reactions, toxicity-related reactions, potential carcinogenic and mutagenic effects and increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.
A 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the FDA imported seafood sampling program did not generally test for drugs that some countries and the European Union have approved for use in aquaculture, despite the fact that many of those drugs remain unapproved in the United States. Moreover, only a small share of imported seafood is tested. For example, GAO determined that in fiscal year 2009, FDA tested about 0.1 percent of all imported seafood products for drug residues. Specifically regarding catfish during fiscal years 2006 through 2009, GAO found that the FDA did not analyze a single catfish sample for nitrofurans, which is a class of antibacterial drug commonly used in foreign aquaculture that has been banned by the FDA because of its carcinogenic effects and potential risk to public health.
“USDA catfish inspection has the potential to significantly improve consumer safety, without negatively impacting U.S. seafood companies, international trade or the regulatory responsibilities of federal agencies. The domestic catfish industry welcomes this regulation, as do consumers. Six years is more than enough of time, let’s get this rule implemented,” urged Hauter.
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.