As for help on Capitol Hill, the struggling U.S. catfish sector has found it difficult to make inroads.

“A lot gets done in Washington, obviously, based on how much lobbying power you have. So, we have a shrinking U.S. catfish industry financed by a few hundred farmers. We’re up against the lobbying power of countries.

“When we go to Washington, a few farmers will call on our congressmen. We often find the ambassador of Vietnam has been around, as well.”

The pressure to preserve the inspection status quo is being exerted in a number of ways. Several U.S. commodity groups have spoken out against the USDA inspections. “American soybean folks want to export beans to China for fish food. Beef producers want to export their products to Vietnam. The Vietnamese have said if the United States slows down the importation of their catfish, they’ll slow down imports of U.S. beef.

“Then, there are some northeastern states where the imported fish is brought in and further processed. It must be cheaper to buy Vietnamese product than to process fish they’ve caught.”

Pentecost – who farms in Doddsville, Miss. – says current prices for U.S. catfish, “aren’t where they need to be but seem to be firming a bit. They still aren’t quite enough to cover the cost of feed. I don’t think we’ll see a break in the cost of feed until the new grain crops come in.

“I hate to say it, but it doesn’t look like 2013 will be profitable. We’ll probably lose some more catfish farmers. Farmers just won’t do what it takes to raise catfish if they can’t make a little money at it.”

Is the USDA inspection program dead? Is there still hope it might be implemented?

“We’ll continue to plug the program. The country needs it! It’s the right thing to do. The FDA hasn’t been getting the job done in all seafood. They’ve admitted that.

“We don’t want to give up on the USDA inspections yet. I do think it’s a long-shot that we can save it. But it isn’t something we can leave alone.

“Most people feel strongly about FSIS beef, poultry and pork inspections. I don’t see why there’s been such a backlash against letting them inspect catfish.”

 

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