The 2008 farm bill requires the USDA to take over Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of both domestic and imported catfish. Already extremely tardy to take the inspections on, the USDA must first define exactly what it will be inspecting.

For more, see catfish inspections

Last Friday (Feb. 18), the department said it was considering two options for the definition of ‘catfish’ and will be seeking public comment through late June. Option one: proclaiming ‘catfish’ as all species in the Siluriformes order (including the Pangasiidae, Clariidae and Ictaluridae families). Option two: placing all species in the family Ictaluridae under the ‘catfish’ umbrella.

Another proposal says the USDA will require marks of inspection from its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) or the equivalent from a catfish exporting nation. If implemented, this would require Asian aquaculture operations to overhaul current unclean and/or unsafe farming practices.

For more, see catfish farming

On Monday, Delta Farm Press spoke with Joey Lowery, a Newport, Ark., catfish producer and Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) president. Among his comments:

On the USDA proposal…

“The rule is to be published on Wednesday (Feb. 23). But it was out for public view last Friday. So, it’s moving forward.

“As far as the definition of ‘catfish,’ they’ve left it neutral. They’ve provided two options. One is the narrow definition. The other option is a broad definition, which would take in all Siluriformes– and that’s what we’re advocating.

“Regardless, that will be debated over the comment period before they make a final decision on the definition. We’ll know what will be inspected after that.”

Are you pleased overall?

“I’m pleased the process is moving forward. I was a bit disappointed they didn’t go ahead and just use the broad definition of ‘catfish.’ I think the USDA and FSIS know that in order for this rule to achieve food safety – what it’s there for – you have to go with the broad definition.

“In my correspondence with Agriculture Secretary (Tom) Vilsack through letters, he’s made the comment that if the main intent of the rule is to maximize food safety, you’d have to use the broad definition.

“Why they didn’t go ahead and put that out, I don’t know. I guess there are some other people (involved in the process) that feel differently. But, deep down, the FSIS knows what needs to be done.”