Monday, March 23, 2015

Catfish farms wanted tougher inspections to fight foreign competition; be careful what you ask for

More rigorous inspections—requested by U.S. catfish producers in 2008 to compete with foreign competitors—are causing more harm than good, Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times. Regulations, expected to be finalized soon, are costing "an already beleaguered industry millions of dollars to comply, potentially driving more catfish farmers out of the business and costing hundreds of jobs in the rural South, said John Sackton, a seafood industry analyst." (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal photo by Adam Robison: Catfish farmers in Egypt, Miss.)

Inspections were moved from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to a more rigorous program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nixon writes. USDA inspections, which are now more "like those conducted at meat and poultry processing plants, are conducted daily and are more rigorous than the sporadic checks conducted by the Food and Drug Administration."

The U.S. catfish industry, mostly located in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas, has dropped from 133,000 acres in 2008 to 69,910 this year, Nixon writes. Industry officials blame the drop on higher corn prices used to feed catfish and lower-priced imports "primarily from Vietnam, which often undercut catfish raised in the U.S by $2 a pound. Those imports now make up about 75 percent of the U.S. market."

"Domestic catfish farmers say foreign-raised catfish is produced under lax safety standards," Nixon writes. "But the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, a trade group based in Ho Chi Minh City, said its catfish exports undergo rigorous testing and inspection." (Read more)

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