A new report from Exponent Inc.’s Center for Chemical Regulation and Food Safety is adding new fuel to the debate over catfish import safety. According to the report, eating contaminated catfish imported from Vietnam and China could have “serious long-term human health consequences.”

The report cites “major hazards” associated with aquaculture fish, including pathogenic microorganisms, antimicrobial drug residues and environmental chemicals.

Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, joined the group, Food & Water Watch, and the Catfish Farmers of America in unveiling the report yesterday on Capitol Hill.  Lincoln said she had been “loud and clear” on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) delay in implementing the catfish inspection rule, part of the 2008 Farm Bill, which shifted jurisdiction over catfish safety from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The rule has yet to be implemented. The proposed rule has languished in the Office of Management and Budget reportedly because of objections raised by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative over concerns that countries currently exporting catfish to the U.S. may not be able to meet the food safety standards that FSIS would require. 

“Each day we delay is another day Americans are at risk,” said Lincoln yesterday in a briefing with reporters. The USDA was supposed to have begun implementing the rule last fall.

The National Fisheries Institute blasted the briefing yesterday, calling the report a “centerpiece of an anti-competition effort” that seeks to create a food safety scare.

According to the report there would be a number of benefits from the USDA inspection:

-USDA requires that countries exporting products to the U.S. have inspection programs equivalent to the U.S. program based on USDA review.

-USDA requires continuous inspection of the foods it regulates.

-USDA sets standards for microbial hazards, tests for contamination, tests production facilities, and evaluates individual facilities.

-USDA regularly conducts foreign inspections of producers who export to the U.S.

-In the last 11 years, the USDA’s regulatory program has decreased Salmonella prevalence in all classes of products it inspects.

-USDA has not certified either China or Vietnam to ship USDA-regulated raw, non-processed products from any meat animal to the U.S.

The full report is available here.