Sessions leads fight to save catfish inspections

Published 4:21 pm Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In March, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) led an effort to create a system to provide a fair pricing structure for imported catfish — a system designed to protect that of American catfish producers, many of whom call Alabama’s Black Belt home.

Now, Sessions is working to ensure valuable, but threatened catfish inspection services continue.

Even in light of recent discoveries in North Carolina of formaldehyde found in catfish from Vietnam, work on the new Farm Bill repeals the USDA catfish inspection service.

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This inspection program was originally authorized in the 2008 farm bill when Congress decided that all catfish—whether produced in the United States or abroad—should undergo the same rigorous health and safety standards in order to keep American consumers safe. However, the version of the farm bill recently passed by the House would eliminate this inspection program.

“[That discovery creates] more questions and concerns as to why the FDA continues to fail in its inspect responsibilities,” Sessions said in a recent letter. “There is a clear concern with the lack of inspections of foreign catfish production facilities, as well as the lack of inspections of the foreign products when imported into the United States.”

The letter was sent late last week to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, and ranking member U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

In addition to Sessions, fellow Alabama U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby signed the letter as did other U.S. Senators Mark Pryor, Roger Wicker, David Vitter and Mary Landrieu.

“The reasons for implementing this program are just as real and present as they were when Congress rightly authorized the inspection program in 2008. FDA currently inspects U.S. catfish facilities,” Sessions said. “However, FDA inspects less than 2 percent of imported seafood, and government Import Refusal data, FDA Import Alerts, NOAA investigations and independent analysis continue to show banned drugs and chemicals in fish imported from Vietnam and China, placing American consumers at risk.”

According to Sessions, the program will require domestic and international production to undergo the same rigorous health and safety standards. All catfish meeting those standards would reach the marketplace, whether domestic or imported.

“Our main priority should be the health and safety of American consumers,” Sessions said. “We ask you to oppose any efforts to repeal this program during conference negotiations.”

In information provided by Sessions’ office, more than 5,800 jobs in Alabama are directly related to the catfish industry, which also generates more than $158 million for the economy.

Combined, more than 100 million pounds of catfish are harvested each year by Alabama catfish producers.