Catfish Needs USDA Inspections (Letter to the Editor)

TO THE EDITOR:

While many accusations have been leveled at the domestic catfish industry and its pursuit of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections, the intent of the U.S. catfish industry has always been very clear: consumer safety.

The recent report by the Government Accountability Office and Obama administration that the USDA catfish inspections are a “duplicative program” and should be eliminated is of great concern. The costs referenced in the GAO report are simply wrong. Zero funds have been spent on USDA catfish inspections because the program as outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill has not been implemented yet. Furthermore, if the USDA enacts catfish inspections, there will be no overlap with other federal food inspection programs. Moving catfish inspections to the USDA is a consolidation of inspection programs, not a duplication.

Currently, U.S. consumers believe their seafood is subject to the same rigorous inspection standards as those imposed on meat and poultry products. Unfortunately, this is not the case under the existing Food & Drug Administration standards. We support USDA catfish inspections because we know that the FDA provides insufficient safeguards for the American consumer. By the FDA’s own admission, it inspects a shockingly low percentage of the seafood coming into the United States.

The USDA already inspects all other agriculture. Aquaculture is agriculture; therefore, it only makes sense to transfer inspection of catfish from the FDA to the USDA, especially now that seafood consumption in the United States exceeds 4.7 billion pounds annually. In 2011, the GAO said that the FDA needed to drastically improve its oversight of imported seafood, including fish labeled as catfish. With the current FDA program, less than 1 percent of our seafood imports are ever inspected, and only a fraction of that amount is ever tested for contamination from illegal drugs and chemicals. To say that the FDA leaves U.S. consumers vulnerable is a gross understatement.

The U.S. government has a duty to maintain the safety of our nation’s food supply. Preventing the USDA from inspecting catfish could expose consumers to products that originate from countries that do not follow the same strict safety standards as we do in the U.S.

The first and foremost responsibility of the elected officials of this country is to ensure the well-being and safety of its citizens. The assurance that the food we eat is safe should be an integral part of that responsibility. U.S. consumers deserve the best inspection of the country’s food supply, and the USDA is the best agency to accomplish that goal.

Brad Graham
Portland

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Arkansas Business welcomes Letters to the Editors. Letters must be signed and writers must include their hometowns and contact information so we can confirm their identity. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, spelling and punctuation.

Letters may be mailed to Editor Gwen Moritz, Arkansas Business, 114 Scott St., Little Rock, AR 72201; faxed to (501) 375-7933; or e-mailed to GMoritz@ABPG.com.