Policy-ish

Lincoln Victory Could Release Catfish Rule From Bureaucratic Net

catfish swimming

This Arkansas catfish has a friend in the Senate, for now. Danny Johnston/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Danny Johnston/AP

Many people are wondering whether Sen. Blanche Lincoln's narrow primary victory last night will give her more pull with the administration.

But the catfish farmers in Arkansas are thinking more specifically:

Can she get the USDA to issue a long-awaited rule requiring imported catfish to be inspected?

"She's overcome a big hurdle here," Joey Loweryof the Catfish Promotion Board of Arkansas and the Catfish Farmers of America told Shots. "We anticipate the rule will come out shortly," he said.

Getting the inspection rule out has been a pet project of Lincoln's. But it's been sitting in regulatory purgatory for two years, due to internal administration debate.

At a hearing last week, Lincoln urged USDA's food safety chief nominee Elisabeth Hagen to get on with it and issue the rule already, calling the catfish situation "one of the more pressing food safety concerns that exists right now."

Hyperbole aside, some food safety experts fear the imported Asian catfish blanketing our supermarkets are grown in less than pristine conditions.

They say the FDA, which is currently charged with seafood oversight, is far too taxed to tackle the matter.

"First, the controversy internally has lasted long enough," Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch told Food Safety News.

But the risks of getting sick from catfish is small because no one eats it raw, Byron Truglio, a retired FDA consumer safety officer who advises the USDA told the Washington Post last winter.

There's no doubt Asian imports have been taking a big bite out of the domestic catfish market, and Arkansas happens to be one of the top domestic catfish producing states.

And Lincoln happens to chair the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee.

But Lowery says its strictly a food safety issue. The catfish importers should meet the same standards as the domestic producers.

"If we're going to trade with these developing countries, we have to set the standards," he said.

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