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Catfish Farmers Air Commercials to Pressure Obama

Whether they are truly motivated by their concern for food safety, or whether they just want to erect a trade barrier, U.S. catfish farmers are methodical in keeping pressure on.

Catfish Farmers of America want the Obama Administration to quit dickering and implement language in the 2008 Farm Bill that requires the Department of Agriculture to inspect catfish just as it now regulates beef, pork, poultry and eggs.

Domestic catfish producers successfully sought the change because they say too little foreign seafood–about 2 percent–is ever subject to inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).   

With the failure to implement the 2008 law, Catfish Farmers of America opted this week to begin airing television commercials on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC demanding that President Obama take action to bring about USDA inspection of all catfish sold in the United States.

“The White House has had more than two years to enforce a law that could provide important food safety protections for American consumers,” said Joey Lowery, president of Catfish Farmers of America.

“Congress voted more than two years ago to require USDA oversight of all catfish–imported and domestic,” said Lowery.  “President Obama and his administration have refused to implement the law and safeguard our families.”

Earlier in the month, Lowery went public with a similar plea to the new Undersecretary for Food Safety, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, who heads up USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).  It houses USDA’s new catfish office.

Domestic producers say imported catfish carries with it serious health risks, including contamination by chemicals, pollutants and antibiotics.  They especially point to fish farming practices in China and Vietnam.   The two Asian counties produce one-third of all catfish sold in the U.S.

The hang-up in implementing the law, according to most observers, is the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a White House unit.  Not much has ever been said in public about what’s really going on. 

 Demetrios Marantis, deputy U.S. Trade Representative, speaking in Vietnam last year, referred to U.S. catfish policies as “controversial.”   Marantis lived in Hanoi earlier in the decade when he was chief legal advisor to the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council.  

The US Trade Representative’s reported concerns supposedly include the fact that the USDA is given the power to define what is a catfish.  Numerous species could be included, complicating relationships with producing countries.

Multiple types of imported species are now marketed in the U.S. simply as “catfish.”

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