This is, of course, to the great detriment of the U.S. catfish industry, which must adhere to rules governing the use of antibiotics, contaminants and cleanliness. Not only are U.S. producers forced to incur greater costs than their foreign competitors, they have also been forced to watch their domestic market share shrink. The predictable result: since 2001, catfish acres in the Mississippi Delta have decreased 43 percent, going from 113,000 acres to 64,000 acres in 2010.

It should be noted that while the Obama administration has been willfully idle on the issue, it inherited the situation. The battle over inspections began years ago and — pushed by U.S. catfish producers and the Mid-South delegation — culminated in the 2008 farm bill, which called for inspections to be taken from the ineffective FDA and given to the USDA. As it already has more robust inspection regimes set up for beef and pork, Congress instructed the USDA to do the same for aquaculture.

This was mandated to take place a mere 180 days after the bill passed. To the joy of businessmen and lobbyists willing to sell out the health of U.S. consumers, that deadline has been ignored.

So why didn’t the food safety bill currently bouncing around the lame-duck Congress have an aquaculture component?

“Quite frankly, the law is already clear,” says Ben Noble, who represents the Catfish Farmers of America in Washington.“We’ve already moved inspections from the FDA to the USDA. There’s little left to do legislatively. The responsibility now rests on the USDA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to get it done.”

 “The (Mid-South) delegation was split on” the recent, Senate-passed bill, says Chip Morgan, executive vice-president of the Delta Council. “The bill was really in reaction to some of the criticism FDA has received due to food safety issues that have arisen.

“Obviously, the incidents that caught the most attention were eggs and chicken, not catfish. Even though, to us, the catfish (safety/inspection) issue has been very prominent, it hasn’t gotten nearly the national attention eggs and chickens have. And, of course, remember that those two are domestic, not international.

“Our issue is that China and Vietnam really don’t want the USDA to put inspectors in their plants. If you want to get down to the bottom of it, that’s what it amounts to. And if our proposal was to be implemented, that’s exactly what would happen…

“We find this most unfortunate because when you say ‘food safety’ in catfish country, it’s pretty clear we’ve lost 60 percent of the industry to imports proven to be contaminated.”