Years in the making, the USDA’s new inspection rule for catfish and other Siluriformes is already caught up in a lot of controversy. The rule, which becomes effective in March 2016, applies to both domestically-raised and imported Siluriformes. It was mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill.
Up until now, catfish, and other Siluriformes, were regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates all food products accept meat, poultry and some egg products. The new U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) rule marks the beginning of an 18-month transition for oversight of the fish. The fish will now be regulated under the United States Department of Agriculture.
“FSIS is committed to a smooth and gradual introduction to the new inspection program, which was mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill,” said Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “The agency will conduct extensive outreach to domestic industry and international partners so that they fully understand FSIS’ requirements prior to full implementation.”
Before the rule becomes effective in March 2016, countries currently exporting or interested in exported product to the U.S. must provide a list of the establishments that currently export, along with written documentation of their regulatory authority and compliance with existing FDA import requirements if they wish to continue doing so. FSIS will also re-inspect and conduct species and residue sampling on imported Siluriformes on a quarterly basis, at the very minimum.
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) began the push for the new rule more than seven years ago to level the regulatory playing field for domestic and foreign producers of Siluriformes. When the rule goes into effect, both domestic and foreign processors will have to abide by the same food safety standards that are in compliance with the World Trade Organization Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. Under the current FDA system, less than 2 percent of imported fish are inspected.
But catfish importers are not on board. The National Fisheries Institute, which represents seafood importers, says the rule is a clear violation of the World Trade agreement and will puts U.S. farmers in danger of international trade retaliation.