More than 90 percent of the catfish imported to the United States originates in Vietnam, a country that has become the largest competitor to U.S. Delta region catfish farmers.

An international government debate over the catfish trade is ongoing.  Under the 2008 Farm Bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed amending regulations for both domestic and imported catfish to protect food safety and strengthen domestic and international trade regulations.  

Two varieties of Vietnamese catfish subject to the new regulations are Swai (Tra) and Basa.   Both varieties are widely farmed in Vietnam, and many consider the fillets a delicacy, as they are wider and thinner in appearance than catfish farmed by U.S. catfish farmers.  In 2002, the Federal Government ruled that Vietnamese varieties of Basa fish could not be called catfish.  In 2009 the named changed to Swai (an alternate name for Tra). 

Regardless of name, Vietnamese Swai and Basa are not subject to the same inspections as other imported catfish because these fish are not considered catfish.

All catfish must meet strict inspection requirements.  Among the health and safety concerns associated with Vietnamese catfish are issues such as polluted water and the use of antiquarian facilities.  American catfish farmers have taken action to draw awareness to these issues and have developed a coalition which produced a marketing campaign calling American catfish “the safe choice” catfish.  

In the meantime, Vietnam catfish farmers and other international exporters of fish need to show proof that the water used to farm fish is safe and unpolluted and provide observational data related to their farming practices in order to meet American food safety requirements.  The issue of tracking is essential to allow country of origin to be traced if a food safety issue were to occur in the United States.

Under the revisions are rules that Vietnamese catfish producers are required to have their product inspected and tested.  U.S. fishmongers have been lobbying for new policy, claiming imported catfish pose a potential health risk.

The U.S. proposed moving inspections of imported catfish from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to that of the USDA; however, the State Department, trade officials, and members of Congress are critical of the plan and have articulated their feelings that international catfish farmers are being unlawfully targeted.  Some worry that the action could impose trade feuds.

International agreements on food inspections typically take between two to five years to negotiate, and switching the agency responsible for inspections could bar international trade while negotiations are conducted.  The change proposed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is to coincide with provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill legislation.

The rules have been under review at the Office of Management with the proposed review date indefinite.

Seafood consumption in the United States exceeds 4.9 billion pounds annually; of this figure, 83 percent is imported.  Advocates argue that the U.S. needs clearly defined laws to protect consumers from environmental contamination and chemicals that could be present on imported seafood and say consumers have the right to know whether imported catfish is farmed and processed under the same food safety guidelines as domestically raised catfish.

  • Carol Pelfrey

    American Catfish Farmers – Why isn’t the U.S. trying to back them? I just saw John Brewers, I believe, comment that the American consumer doesn’t need to worry about foreign catfish -it’s safe. Where has this man been! China manufactured tainted baby food, dog food, toys in kids meals were found to be dangerous as well as lead found in the “green” shopping bags, just to name a few.
    Vietnam Swai and Basa fish aren’t subject to testing because they’re not considered a catfish??? What a way to bypass our regulations!
    If 4.9 billion pounds of fish is consumed annually and 83% is imported, I think our government needs to enforce the same regulation requirements our American catfish producers are obligated to follow, which is a safeguard for the consumer’s health.
    I do not purchase any food product if it is not made in the U.S.A. because foreign companies get by without following the same regulations our own companies have to.

    • Annie K

      Well your lumping China and all of SE Asia together and each country should be judged on an individual merit don’t you think?  It seems borderline racist to lump all these countries together.  Anyhow, yes, regulations should be more strict on all foods in general but before you get all hot and bothered about international foods, look into all food regulation as a whole here in the US.  The things that go into our food are terribly scary.  Pink slime?  I would google that because that’s legal in the US and is a common additive to beef.  Speaking of beef, do you know what cows are given in their lifetime before they end up on our tables?  Yes, I would say be wary of certain types of fish coming out of certain countries but don’t make such a rash decision based on one ill cited article. cites several studies that conclude that information disseminated by the American Catfish Farmers was propaganda based and not fact based.  Sure, we should support our local farmers, we should support all local business, which means we should probably not shop at any place that outsources labor or has raw goods come from outside countries instead of right here in the US. Foreign cars, electronics… those things would have to be boycotted too not to mention the many foods we do not grow in abundance here in the US… like oranges or strawberries in winter time… do you go without fruit all winter or do you buy things grown in Mexico or Central and South America like most people do?  Its a global world, lets be responsible but not ignorant.  

  • Paul Breitfeld

    Food imports from Vietnam probably contain residual Agent Orange and other dioxins present in the ground and water. Tests have shown that many people in Vietnam are still getting diseases that are attributed to the chemicals we used in the 60’s.

    • I support US catfish farmers, Period !!

      • Lao Tzi

        good luck for getting rip off

  • margaret

    what is the true information about basa safty i keep reading of the poluted waters of viet naim and by eating this fish ca n cause serious illness the chemicals used in the feeding pellets has been known to cause cancer in mice please reply

  • cleareyes

    The domestic catfish lobby got a concession in the 2002 Farm Bill that Vietnamese catfish could no longer be called catfish. Now they are lobbying to require Vietnamese catfish to be called catfish. Can you say “Make up your mind?”

  • johnsmith9875

    I think its safer overall for the consumer to just stick to American catfish.   Asians are notorious for ignoring basic safety protocols.   Why eat fish that came from 8000 miles away when you can support an American fish farmer?

  • Jolene8992

    I’m throwing out my bag of swai, and never purchasing again. Not testing? Really?

    • Joan Tvedt

      It’s so good~I’ve eaten it 6 times and I’m still here~

    • Olen

      Do some research, Jolene, and you’ll see that you’ve been scammed by the producers of the higher cost US product. In fact, when a group of US catfish producers went to Vietnam to check of their production…expecting to find fish farmers raising fish in polluted waters, feeding garbage to the fish…the Americans found the complete opposite and came back “scared to death”, to use their exact words, because the US fish-farmers obviously couldn’t compete.

  • trueb0b

    The usual reasons:  It has better flavor, appearance and is half the price.

  • I’ve eaten it 6 times and I’m OK

  • Donald Easterling

    It is much cheaper, and the taste is far superior. I have tried to eat American catfish many times by “experts”, and it still is foul. Vietnamese swai looks, cooks, and tastes better, and is considerably cheaper. I have eaten imported Vietnamese swai several times a month for years and I have never been healthier.

  • Jerry Vanek

    Burton writes, “The U.S. proposed moving inspections of imported catfish from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to that of the USDA” but doesn’t explain why. If the FDA is that terrible at inspecting catfish, why do we allow it to continue to inspect any other food? It makes little sense.

  • Chris Black

    Well to tell you the truth of the matter , all the time I am hearing of all the bad things that are in our food … how chicken and pigs are raised and then killed for us to eat …all the antibiotic’s and hormones that are fed to all of our meat ,cows and all of them .. Really unless you grow your own food and livestock , and make sure what they are fed ,…NOTHING IS SAFE TO EAT … and people of other countries never had cancers until they started to eat like Americans … Americans are the sickest on the earth because of diets here … People are getting overweight because of what they put in the food ,and because of all the junk they eat … Now maybe this is true about the fish i do not doubt it at all …now everyone has a choice to eat what they chose to eat , but i think before you say anything remember when you go out to eat, do you ask where it came from ? most do not !!!.. We have to eat and some of us do not have alot of money ,so when we want to eat the best we can , sometimes we have to eat the fish within our price and then DIE!!!!.. HAVE A GREAT DAY … AND GrAb a HaPpY ThOuGhT!!!

  • eddiejazz25

    though i think it better to always support our american fish farmers,we shoulld not resort to negative propaganda to do it just do it because we are americans.why do we always feel the need to always point out the negative in others or put others down to make ourselves feel bigger?some of thew meats and other foods produced right here in america are deplorable and filthy.theres no regard forf human life only profit.

    • Lao Tzi

      well said
      For the benefits of the consumers, fair competitions should be the way to go, not killing the competitors through lobbying. Wake up America!

  • Lao Tzi

    Catfish Farmers of USA should adjust the price and make it more competitive instead of lobbying the government to rid of its competitors. This is bad news for consumers.


    Swai fish (also called Basa fish) is a freshwater fish without scales, and their fins are grey or dark. This fish is a type of catfish, which many people refer to as the shark catfish.

    Swai fish has a milder flavor and more delicate texture than the channel catfish in the US. They have moist, sweet, mild flavored flesh with a beige color which turns white after cooking.

    And see the recipes with swai fish here:

  • Yorktown

    Swai fish are farm raised on human excrement in ponds that smell like well human excrement. Farmers must wear masks and gloves. You would get very ill if you ingest this water. These fish are bottom feeders. As soon as the water is clear enough to see fish they throw more shit into the pond.

  • TK

    Ate a piece of Swai for the first time the other day and Swai must mean shit in the Vietnamese language because it is what it may as well had been. Disgusting taste and horrible. Catfish is nothing like that! Why would they classify this as catfish?

  • DrPoole

    Good discussion of a challenging topic. I have inspected many different Vietnamese catfish (basa) farms, I used to raise catfish in Texas on a small scale, and I was a member of Catfish Farmers of America. It is amazing how much their Pangasius looks like our channel catfish, but the quality of the flesh is superior. I love all American industry, and I always felt that it was a mistake to insist that Pangasians not be called catfish. The Pangasian product is far superior, and there’s just no avoiding that. Call it basa or swai, and eventually everyone will understand that it is superior. Call it all catfish, and our products still have a chance in the right market. The Pangasians grow faster and the flesh looks and tastes better. For fried fish chunks, the difference is not so noticeable, but sautéed basa is lovely; American catfish….not so much. Invasive species rules prevent us from raising Pangasians here. Safety could be a difference, but my agency was checking the basa fillets and whole fish for heavy metals, pesticides, and antibiotic residues. They were clean. Perhaps we could insist that they buy a ton of American beef for every ton of basa. We are fighting to keep blacksmiths employed if we try to insist that our catfish is somehow competitive. I’m sorry, but it is inferior in every important way. We should accept that fact and find workarounds.

  • Mike Cain

    it is amazing to me how americans can spend so much time talking verbally (talk shows tv and radio etc) and on line without knowing anythng about or researching an issue. It is even sadder than having all the best and most knowledgable sports coaches in America driving cabs and cutting hair!?!?! Here are a couple of suggestions: 1. Nobody ever learned anything while their mouths or fingers were moving. 2. Shut your mouth and spend all that energy learning and voting!!!
    and a special reqiest to those “experts”, “doctors” and other inane contributers of articles to please stop 1. starting an article with a question e.g. “Is blah, blah, blah etc. bad for you?” and then spend 2000 words NOT answering the question!! (some of us would actually like an answer, with an explanation or reference (if you insist!) With all due respect, thank you, Mike

  • Floyd

    I was born and raised in Mississippi. I am 64 yrs of age. I have eaten Southern American Catfish since I was about 5 yrs of age. I am also a U. S. Navy Veteran. I have eaten the Asian ?Catfish? by accident, because I was lied to as to the Country of Origin. And, the reason I knew that it was not American Catfish was because I bit into a funny shaped bone that does not exist in the American Catfish. So, I now ask for the Country of Origin and species of fish that I eat. But, I have determined that I will not eat any food from a COMMUNIST COUNTRY. I have nothing against the people of those countries, but I refuse to line the pockets of Communist Leaders with my money. Besides, American Catfish cleaned, prepared and cooked properly tastes very good.