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UPDATED: Foreign catfish discover the U.S. really does have borders

Editor’s note on update: A list of specific retail locations that received the recalled product is now available on the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website. Click here for the list  which may be updated as additional information becomes available.

The U.S. border has suddenly become meaningful to importers of Siluriformes, including foreign catfish.

It’s all happened during the past four months since the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s catfish inspection program began. And it’s occurred while Congress is still considering ending the USDA program of continuous inspection.

bigcatfish_406x250In the latest development, U.S. Cato Holdings Inc., on Monday recalled 26,000 pounds of Sea Queen brand Swai fillets from Vietnam because they had not been inspected for residues. POLITICO.com reported the large recall was “gift-wrapped” for those who favor the USDA retaining “continuous inspection” duties rather than returning the responsibility to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“News that Vietnamese catfish is being recalled because the company dodged inspections for banned antibiotics is outrageous” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT. “Despite the company in question breaking our nation’s food safety laws multiple times, it can continue to ship catfish to our supermarkets, putting Americans at risk.”

DeLauro has earned a reputation for being outspoken on food safety issues and has emerged as one of the leaders for continuing the USDA catfish inspection program.

“There is no denying that foreign seafood often contains dangerous and illegal toxins, but the Administration’s answer is to not only allow these shipments, but encourage them through the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” she added. “Rather than standing up to foreign corporations that do not have any regard for the health and safety of Americans, the Administration is continuing its fight to lower our food standards.

“We do not need toxic catfish and we certainly do not need toxic trade agreements like the TPP. When foreign food companies a half a world away are trying to skirt our rules, we need a robust food safety system — which includes keeping USDA in charge of catfish inspections — as well as trade agreements that protect American consumers.”

The group Safe Catfish also weighed in after the recall, noting other health risks from imported catfish that have turned up since USDA inspections began on March 1. Those include:

  • May 3, 2016, USDA rejected 39,600 pounds of imported catfish after lab testing revealed dangerous levels of Genetian Violet present in the fillets. Genetian Violet is a known carcinogen and a banned substance in the U.S.
  • May 4, 2016, USDA rejected 6,600 pounds of imported catfish after USDA lab testing revealed dangerous levels of Malachite Green, a banned and dangerous chemical.
  • May 26, 2016, USDA rejected a significant shipment of Chinese catfish after the importers refused to allow USDA inspector to inspect the fish. Safe Catfish officials said they want to know “What were they hiding?”

USDA warned consumers who have purchased the recalled Vietnamese Swai to not consume it, and to return the product or throw it away.

The Senate narrowly voted to end the USDA catfish inspection program last month, sending the measure to the House. Leadership in the House must now decide whether to bring the Senate resolution to a floor vote or let it die.

Like other seafood imports, only 1 percent to 2 percent of foreign catfish was subjected to inspection when the duty fell under FDA’s risk-based system.

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