CATFISH: Why the Fuss?

The USDA recently began a new program to inspect catfish. This action was ordered in the 2014 Farm Bill after the 2008 Farm Bill catfish directives to FDA failed.

Basically, in 2014, Congress forced FDA to create a Memorandum of Understanding with USDA to take over FDA’s catfish inspection. The MOU outlined specific inspection duties to prevent duplication and limit USDA’s inspection to only catfish products.

Currently, USDA’s new program is under attack. The agency refused several shiploads of catfish and issued a recall.  Some Senators voted to return catfish inspection to the FDA, while House Members rallied behind USDA’s new program.


Pangasius, a type of catfish, prepared and ready to eat.

In the U.S., catfish and channel catfish are the names commonly used for catfish products. However, foreign suppliers sell “catfish” under other names, e.g., Pangasius, Basa, Sutchi, Swai, Tra or Striped.

Catfish imports have increased dramatically in past 16 years.

In 2013, Americans consumed more than 305 million pounds of catfish compared to 8.2 M in 2000 and 137 M in 2010. Of the 2013 catfish consumed, 78% of the product was imported, yet according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report, FDA only tests about 0.1% of imported seafood for drug residues! Obviously, this level of testing is woefully inadequate to detect fish imports that exceed drug residue limits.

American consumers need USDA to oversee catfish, both domestic and foreign. USDA has the staff and infrastructure to provide a higher level of inspection. For a product like catfish, which is largely imported and sold under various foreign names, it is imperative that our food agencies work together to provide the best oversight possible.

CFI and others support USDA’s catfish program – please read the consumer groups’ 2014 letter to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.


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