USDA favours homegrown fish in new rules for catfish

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week new inspection standards for catfish before it can be sold as food. The new rules stem from a congressional mandate and are the result of a long battle to protect domestic catfish producers from dumping by Southeast Asian nations not growing channel catfish.
December 2, 2015

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week issued a new rule for catfish suppliers, which requires on-site inspections of farms and processing plants for both domestic and foreign producers to ensure they meet the same standards.

The rule is expected to become effective from March 2016, and will be phased in over 18 months, giving foreign suppliers, mostly from Vietnam, time to make changes needed to comply with the USDA\\\'s requirements, according to Reuters.

The catfish inspection standards will broadly apply to “all fish of the order Siluriformes” and will ensure that fish with unusual gross deformities caused by disease or chemical contamination are not used for human food. This is a major change from the 2008 Farm Bill, which allowed USDA to define “catfish,” in a way that excluded the “basa fish” of SE Asia.

The USDA is also issuing labeling standards for defining catfish, listing the country of origin and including safe-handling instructions for consumers.

US growers of catfish mounted a long campaign against dumping, which they claim resulted in the decimation of over 40% of catfish production in the US.
At the peak of aquaculture production in the US, catfish accounted for 40-60% of aquaculture. Producers now hope that the inspection rule will see a resurgence of domestic production.

“The new inspection rule is disappointing as it will seriously hurt Vietnam’s exports of the seafood,” said Le Hai Binh, spokesman for the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Monday.

The final rule can be accessed here.