OMB extends its review of rules for imported catfish

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Office of Management and Budget extended on Tuesday its review of catfish food safety inspection rules proposed by the Agriculture Department. The action comes amid concerns that such inspections could trigger a trade war with Vietnam.

State Department and trade officials and several members of Congress are critical of the proposal, saying catfish imports are being unfairly targeted, particularly Pangasius fish from Vietnam. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's proposed rules include fish from Asia that are marketed in the United States as basa, tra and swai.

Catfish producers from China and Vietnam say the rules do not allow sufficient time for foreign producers to convert from the Food and Drug Administration inspection process. Under the 2008 farm bill, catfish inspections are to move to the USDA.

Negotiating formal agreements with foreign governments for the USDA inspections usually takes two to five years. A draft copy of the proposed rules, obtained by The Washington Post, allows for 18 months. If agreements can't be reached in that time, foreign importers say, the program would effectively ban their product and spark trade wars.

The OMB posted the extension on its Web site and set no deadline. USDA officials did not respond to questions but said they look forward to continuing the rulemaking process.

-- Kimberly Kindy

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