The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a proposed rule that would address a 2008 Farm Bill mandate making catfish an amenable species under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and therefore requiring all domestic and imported catfish to undergo FSIS inspection. According to a February 18, 2011, press release, FSIS has offered two definitions for “catfish,” one limited to all species in the family Ictaluridae and a broader one that covers all species in the order Siluriformes, which includes Ictaluridae, Pangasiidae and Clariidae, the three families “typically found in human food channels.”

The proposed rule would also require, among other provisions, that all catfish “produced in or imported to the United States” bear an FSIS inspection mark or “a mark of inspection from the country from which it was exported.” In addition, the agency has suggested plans for (i) inspecting catfish farms, (ii) transporting products from farms to processing plants, (iii) ensuring product safety, and (iv) transitioning the domestic and international markets to the new system. FSIS will accept comments on the rule until June 24, 2011. See The Federal Register, February 24, 2011.

The proposed rule has already elicited strong criticism from overseas producers who have reportedly warned that USDA inspections are a trade barrier, while drawing support from the domestic catfish industry, which has backed the Siluriformes definition of catfish because it would bring more products under FSIS purview. “We are extremely pleased that the USDA has recommended stricter regulation of catfish, which will mean greater protection for American consumers,” said a spokesperson for the Catfish Farmers of America (CFA). “We are certain that based on the food-safety risks it cites in the draft regulation, USDA will determine that all catfish products—domestic and imported—sold in America should meet the same rigorous standards for quality and safety.” See CFA Press Release and, February 18, 2011.