Questions about the inspection of imported seafood continue to dog the USDA. Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln had the following to say during a July 22 press conference announcing the release of a study on the risks and consequences of not ramping up inspections.

“As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I’ve said loud and clear that the release Catfish Inspection Rule is long overdue. Each day the USDA delays is another day we put Americans’ health at risk — there’s no question about that.

“Nearly a third of all catfish sold in America is imported from Vietnam and China where fish-farming environments are far less controlled and the incidence of contamination is so much greater than that in the United States.

“FDA inspections have shown consistently that fish and seafood from products these countries have some of the highest rates of import refusal due to food safety issues.

“But even more alarming … than the high rate of refusal is that the FDA has only been inspecting about 2 percent of the 5.2 billion pounds of seafood brought into the United States each year. That’s clearly unacceptable when numerous studies show that imported catfish is twice as likely to be contaminated by salmonella and that many drugs detected in imported catfish have been linked to cancer.

“Furthermore, the study we’re discussing today raises even more concerns about the long-term consumer health risks of eating imported catfish.

“Congress acted to address this critical public health issue when we passed the 2008 farm bill over two years ago. The bill clearly stated the inspection of catfish should be shifted from the FDA to the USDA because the USDA has stricter and more comprehensive inspection requirements.

“Failure to properly inspect imported catfish is an economic issue, as well. … In Arkansas, aquaculture is almost a $1 billion industry. It provides thousands of jobs in rural communities throughout our state…

“Due to a lack of proper inspections other countries are getting away with mislabeling their products. Our fish farmers are suffering from unfair competition. As a result, the Arkansas’ catfish industry lost $13 million and numerous jobs in just one year.

“Over two years ago, we signed into law regulations that would ensure imported catfish would be held to the highest inspection requirements. (That would give) Americans confidence that the catfish they consume meets the strictest of safety standards.

“Now it’s up to the USDA, there’s no doubt, to release the Catfish Inspection Rule so that these regulations can finally be implemented and families across this country can be protected from contaminated catfish. Folks, this is a health issue and an economic issue – but it’s something we can fix, and we should.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com