Our Opinion: Casting catfish legislation a step in the right direction

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

State Representative AJ McCampbell (D-Demopolis) plans to sponsor legislation requiring all Alabama restaurants to disclose the origin of the catfish served to its customers.

This disclosure is important on many levels. First of all, it is a first line of defense as consumers guard themselves from bacteria, chemicals and other contaminants routinely found on imported catfish by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Secondly, it provides a much-needed boost to one of the Black Belt’s most important industries. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of catfish are produced in the Black Belt annually, including Marengo, Green and Hale counties.

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A new survey of Alabama residents shows that, in the face of these contamination concerns, an overwhelming majority of consumers want to know where their catfish comes from.

Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Division Director Mitt Walker said the survey proves what producers have claimed for some time — consumers want to know where their food comes from and if given the choice will select food produced by U.S. farmers.

“Alabama is a major producer of U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish,” said Walker. “Sixty-three percent of our state’s consumers eat some or most of their catfish in restaurants, according to our research. That means that a majority of catfish consumers have no way of knowing where the catfish they eat is produced.”

Although U.S. law requires that seafood sold in grocery stores must clearly display the product’s origin, currently there is no federal legislation requiring such a disclosure for restaurants. In recent years, other states have enacted successful Country-of-Origin Labeling legislation for catfish, most recently Arkansas and Mississippi.

Not only is eating Alabama catfish good for the economy, it’s healthier, too. It’s a win-win all the way around.

Alabama has nearly 22,000 acres of water devoted to catfish farming and ranks second nationally in terms of production and they are producing the best product in the global market.

In these tough economic times, it’s best to support our friends and neighbors especially if they offer a superior product.