The activist group Food and Water Watch is down as a “strong supporter” of the catfish program now underway in USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). It would, however, like to see more progress and doesn’t like the inclusion of a couple foreign establishments that FSIS has allowed to sign up for catfish inspections.

bigcatfish_406x250In an Oct. 5 letter to Al Almanza, USDA’s deputy under secretary for food safety and acting FSIS administrator, F&WW said the policy permitting foreign establishments to export siluriformes fish products should have been open to more notice and opportunity for public comment. The letter, signed by F&WW Executive Director Wenoriah Hauter, says the enlistments policy is a “gross abdication of the agency’s authority” under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. She says she is “dismayed” by FSIS making substantive changes without re-opening a rulemaking.

F&WW’s concerns about the process for certifying foreign catfish facilities are not shared by the federal agency, especially when it comes to the two facilities called out by the activists.

“The two newly added establishments have previously exported to the U.S. (verified by FDA), are not ‘new,’ and our approach to them is also not new,” FSIS told POLITICO. The agency said the Federal Register previously reported countries could add to their list of establishments wanting to continue exporting to the U.S. during the transitional period.

Catfish inspection was officially transferred to USDA, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, on March 1. it is now involved in an 18-month transitional period, which is scheduled to end on Sept. 1, 2017, with full enforcement.

Under FDA’s risk based system, only about 1 percent to 2 percent of foreign catfish was subjected to inspection. The USDA catfish inspection program involves inspection of all foreign and domestic species.

Catfish inspection could still be shifted back to FDA if the House of Representatives joins during the lame duck session with the Senate in passing a joint resolution that would return the task to FDA.

F&WW is based in Washington D.C. Its IRS report on 2014 reported revenues approaching $15 million.

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