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Do You Know Where That Fish Came From?

Arkansas is the third leading producer of farm-raised catfish in the nation. (USDA)
Arkansas is the third leading producer of farm-raised catfish in the nation. (USDA)
June 2, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Catfish farmers in Arkansas are fighting back against an effort to gut the country's only safety inspection program, saying it would be a threat to the American public. They also say it could hurt Arkansas' economy. The state is one of the top producers of farm-raised catfish in this country.

The House could vote as soon as next week on a plan to scrap the current catfish inspection program. Senators approved Senate Joint Resolution 28 last week, which overturns the USDA program mandated by the federal Farm Bill. It would have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take back the duty of inspecting fish imported from other countries.

Chad Causey, spokesman for the Catfish Farmers of America, said it means fish tainted with carcinogens and antibiotics could be sold here. He said this country has worked hard to set food safety standards that should be applied to products coming in from other countries as well.

"There is imported product that, because of the Swiss cheese laws of labeling in this country, is sold to be like catfish, or to be sold as catfish in some cases even though it is not," he said.

The National Fisheries Institute backs SJR 28, calling the current inspection program the poster child for government waste, and said it's the start of a process to save taxpayers' money, eliminate duplication of regulations for small businesses, and ensure markets remain open for American farmers.

Causey said a food-safety scare that originates from a foreign import will damage the entire industry.

"If people get sick they won't discriminate because it's very, very difficult to know what you're eating when you order it at a restaurant or if you even get it in a grocery store," he added. "It's not the easiest thing in the world to know where it's coming from."

Causey said letting in imports of potentially toxic fish from Asia also could hurt Arkansas' economy. Up to 94 percent of the catfish raised in the U.S. comes from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

SJR 28 is being opposed by a group of lawmakers who have sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, asking that the House not take the issue up.

The full resolution can be read online here.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR