Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Arkansas Congressional members U.S. Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton and U.S. Representatives Rick Crawford, French Hill, Steve Womack and Bruce Westerman urged U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to defend food safety inspections of catfish by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS). The program has most recently come under attack by Vietnam, which is legally challenging the catfish inspection program at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In a letter to Ambassador Lighthizer, the members urged him to safeguard the program that has kept hundreds of tons of tainted catfish out the U.S. food supply since 2016.

“USDA-FSIS is currently determining equivalency of foreign importers of catfish and catfish-like products, including Vietnam. Throughout this process, safe catfish imports have continued to come into the U.S. from Vietnam and other countries. The catfish and catfish-like products that have not been approved to enter our food supply contain unapproved animal drugs, carcinogens and other harmful contaminants,” members wrote in the letter. 

Due to public health concerns, Congress included provisions in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills to transfer catfish inspection authority to the USDA-FSIS from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which inspected less than two percent of imported catfish and relied solely on point-of-entry inspection.

In 2016 the American Cancer Society announced its support for the USDA authorized catfish inspection program.

In addition to members of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation the letter was also signed by Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Doug Jones (D-AL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Representatives Ralph Abraham, M.D. (R-LA) Bradley Byrne (R-AL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Gregg Harper (R-MS), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Martha Roby (R-AL), Steve Palazzo (R-MS), Mike Rogers (R-AL), Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS).

Full text of the letter is below and here.

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer,

As you know, following Congressional intent in the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) has taken over the inspection of catfish and catfish-like products from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The program is working efficiently and effectively to ensure the safety of catfish in our food supply, and we ask that you defend this necessary food safety program. 

Vietnam recently requested consultations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding USDA-FSIS catfish inspection. Disappointingly, this action by Vietnam has nothing to do with trade and everything to do with politics. In fact, USDA-FSIS is currently determining equivalency of foreign importers of catfish and catfish-like products, including Vietnam. Throughout this process, safe catfish imports have continued to come into the U.S. from Vietnam and other countries. The catfish and catfish-like products that have not been approved to enter our food supply contain unapproved animal drugs, carcinogens and other harmful contaminants.

USDA-FSIS inspection, which has kept hundreds of tons of tainted catfish out of the U.S. food supply since officially beginning operations in 2016, has unfortunately continued to come under attack. The most often cited statement is an outdated Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, which noted that the USDA-FSIS catfish inspection system is duplicative with FDA inspection. However, this could not be further from the truth. The FDA no longer inspects catfish or catfish-like products, only USDA-FSIS inspects these products.  

Lastly, the timing of Vietnam’s request for consultations is suspiciously close to the time in which the Vietnamese government was expected to demonstrate that its regulatory food safety inspection system is equivalent to that of USDA-FSIS. Given the fact that the concept of equivalence originated with the WTO, and that Vietnam has yet to demonstrate it, we believe Vietnam’s request for consultation lacks merit and respect for U.S. food safety laws.  

Going forward in these consultations, we ask you to stand with U.S. catfish farmers and USDA-FSIS inspection of catfish to ensure a safe, wholesome food supply for U.S. consumers. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your response. 

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