Pryor to USDA: All Catfish Should Meet High Safety Standards

WASHINGTON D.C. – During today’s public meeting at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor testified that both domestic and foreign catfish should undergo the USDA’s food safety inspection procedures. The USDA is currently undergoing the rulemaking process to determine the parameters of catfish inspections.  Below are his prepared remarks:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the catfish inspection rule.  I know you are considering options for defining how and when catfish will be inspected.  As you work to determine the parameters of catfish inspections, I want to discuss why I believe a broad definition is the safer option.

Congress transferred inspection of catfish from the FDA to the USDA in the 2008 Farm Bill, and for good reason: the current FDA process only inspects a tiny percentage of all imported catfish.  Over the past few years, there have been several drug and chemical violations in even the small batches tested.

Americans eat more than 200 million pounds of catfish each year.  Just imagine how many dangerous chemicals unsuspecting consumers have eaten.  Clearly, I think we can do better by applying the rules equally to all catfish sold in the U.S.  Consumers need confidence that every catfish sold in the grocery store or purchased at their favorite restaurant is safe to eat.  A consistent inspection program is paramount to achieving consumer confidence.

GAO recently released a report that found the FDA’s current seafood inspection “limited” and acknowledged that the seafood inspection program needs to be strengthened.  In contrast, the USDA has a great track record on food safety and I would like to see that continue.  I have confidence in the USDA’s ability to create a program that operates similarly to the inspection processes for the beef and poultry industries, and which is consistent with our international trade obligations.

A broad USDA program means that inspectors will be onsite, and that they will require corrective action for any safety problems identified.   American catfish farmers believe that applying the rules consistently for domestic and imported catfish will result in fewer contaminants and better public health.  I agree and urge the USDA to adopt a broad definition for catfish and implement a final rule as soon as possible.