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Public Statements

Letter to Senators Debbie Stabenow and Thad Cochran - Foreign Catfish Inspection

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) led a bipartisan letter to the House-Senate Farm Bill Conference urging them to preserve the USDA's foreign catfish inspection program as they work on finalizing the Farm Bill. After sending the letter today, Sen. Sessions stated:

"I am going to fight for these jobs. Our catfish farmers should not be unfairly disadvantaged by foreign imports that skirt the rules. It is only right that foreign catfish producers comply with health and safety standards. All Americans benefit when we defend the legitimate interests of American workers on the world stage."

A full text of the letter follows. To view it as a PDF, please click here:

November 7, 2013

"The Honorable Debbie Stabenow
Chairwoman
Senate Agriculture Committee
328A Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Thad Cochran
Ranking Member
Senate Agriculture Committee
328A Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran:

As you continue working toward passage of the Farm Bill, we urge your continued support of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Catfish Inspection Program authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. This program is critical to the food safety of American consumers and we request that you oppose the provision included in the House farm bill which repeals the USDA catfish inspection program.

As you know, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 included instructions for the USDA to establish a voluntary fee-based inspection and grading program for catfish. See Pub. L. No. 110-246, Sec. 11016, 122 Stat. 2130 (2008). The USDA has issued a proposed rule and completed a lengthy public comment period. See 76 Fed. Reg. 10,434 (Feb. 24, 2011).

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. However, FDA inspects less than 2% 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. Just recently, researchers in North Carolina discovered the use of Formaldehyde on fish imported from Vietnam, drawing more questions and concerns as to why FDA continues to fail in its inspection responsibilities. 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.

Efforts to repeal the Catfish Inspection Program are premature and ill advised. Contrary to opposing views, USDA's catfish inspection program will not distort existing or future trade agreements. To say otherwise ignores the fact that USDA successfully conducts inspection programs for a number of commodities and livestock sectors. The program will require both 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. Scientific evidence and proper risk assessments, in line with international trade agreement requirements, clearly justify this needed program.

Further, over 85% of the official comments in response to USDA's proposed rule on implementation support FSIS inspection of catfish using the broadest possible definition of both imported and domestic catfish and catfish-like products. This program will strengthen food safety standards for both domestic and imported catfish. If the 2008 law is implemented correctly, there will be no duplication whatsoever. Catfish inspection will occur solely at USDA.

Our main priority should be the health and safety of American consumers. We ask you to oppose any efforts to repeal this program during conference negotiations. Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require addition information.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions,
U.S. Senator Mark Pryor,
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby,
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker,
U.S. Senator David Vitter,
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu"

BACKGROUND:
Over 5,800 jobs in Alabama are directly related to the catfish industry. This industry generates more than $158 million for the Alabama economy, and Alabama catfish producers currently produce over 100 million pounds of catfish per year, complying everyday with U.S. health, environmental, and consumer protection standards. In June of this year, the Senate passed a farm bill that kept in place the USDA inspection program for catfish. 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 before it even begins. Today's letter encourages the lead Senate conferees to seek to exclude the House provision from the final bill.

As established in the 2008 farm bill, the purpose of the USDA catfish inspection program is "to prevent and eliminate any burdens on commerce imposed by adulterated or misbranded catfish or catfish products and to protect the health and welfare of consumers from such adulterated or misbranded catfish or catfish products (21 U.S.C. 602)." According to USDA, "Some reports suggest that antimicrobials prohibited for extra-label use in food-producing animals in the United States … have been used in the raising of catfish in foreign countries." Also, USDA stated that "the quality of the river water [in some foreign countries] is more difficult to control or less subject to control by fish farmers than is pond water." In the proposed rule for the catfish inspection program, USDA noted: "Because some shipments of imported catfish have been found with residues of drugs that FDA has banned and that are unsafe, [USDA] proposes to conduct regular verification to ensure the safety of catfish and catfish products." 76 Fed. Reg. at 10,439. Moreover, under the USDA Catfish Inspection Program, foreign sources of catfish will have to follow protocols "to ensure that adulterated or misbranded product is not prepared for export to the United States." 76 Fed. Reg. at 10,448.

In March, Sessions led the effort which resulted in a Commerce Department decision to use Indonesia as a surrogate country for Vietnam to best calculate the price per pound of frozen fish fillets. This decision subjected Vietnamese imports to appropriate and reasonable standards to ensure domestic catfish producers would not be victims of unfair pricing. For the full release, please click here.


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