Dumbass files: They’re not microbiologists, they’re just Penguins fans who eat raw catfish to celebrate title

Scott Allen of The Washington Post reports that fans took to the streets of Pittsburgh to celebrate the Penguins’ second consecutive Stanley Cup title on Sunday night, and a few of them brought catfish, which became a symbol of the runner-up Predators’ improbable postseason run.

In a tradition that dates from 2003, Nashville supporters tossed catfish onto the ice during the playoffs, and sometimes went to great lengths to smuggle the fish into the arena.

Rather than waving the seafood around in revelry like a smelly, guts-filled Terrible Towel, or, I don’t know, stomping on the bottom feeders, more than one Penguins fan was pictured devouring a raw, bloody catfish during Sunday’s celebration. Look, I get it. Deep-frying those bad boys or firing up an electric grill in the middle of a large crowd would’ve been dangerous, but besides being absolutely disgusting, consuming raw catfish doesn’t seem like the safest idea. When was the last time you saw catfish on a sushi menu?


Surely some mistake: US catfish rule exemplifies government waste

David Acheson, president and CEO of The Acheson Group LLC, a global food safety consulting firm, writes in Forbes that last week was a sad day for food safety in the United States as the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) published a final rule on the inspection of catfish.  This new rule exemplifies government waste, the politics of food safety and the inherent dysfunction between the FDA and the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.

airplane.shirleyThis story goes back to 2008 when the Farm Bill transferred regulatory authority for the safety of catfish from the FDA to the USDA.  But why would this change in regulatory authority happen? Was FDA doing a bad job with regulating catfish? Was catfish such a high risk food that it needed the continuous inspection approach of the USDA?  Did FDA feel the need to off load some inspectional responsibilities because the Agency could not cope with the workload.   The answers are no, no and no. So why the move?

To date neither Congress, FDA nor USDA have come up with a sound reason as to why this move was made.  So why was this decision made? To the best of my understanding the decision was based on the belief that US catfish farmers would be better protected from overseas competition by putting all catfish regulation under USDA.  Being regulated by USDA will consume more time and resources for those that slaughter and process catfish. It will require more effort by the industry to be responsive to the on-site and shift by shift inspections of USDA. But if one assumes that this more severe and costly oversight can be met by the domestic producers but might be too much for those importing catfish, then maybe there is an economic advantage to the domestic catfish growers in that the foreign suppliers will just give up and stop importing catfish to the US. 

Laws are like catfish sausages

I feel so much better about the safety of my catfish now. And have a better understanding of non-tariff trade barriers.

According to the New York Times, After years of delay, the Agriculture Department on Wednesday established tough new rules to inspect imported catfish, yielding to pressure from domestic catfish producers that risks retaliation from America’s trade partners.Untitled-4081.png

The rules come seven years after lawmakers from the South, at the request of catfish farmers in states like Mississippi and Arkansas, helped secure legislation in the 2008 farm law that moved inspections of catfish from the Food and Drug Administration to a more rigorous program at a new office within the Agriculture Department. Domestic producers of catfish called it a safety measure, but opponents said the new inspection program was a veiled trade barrier intended to limit imports.

 “The point of this process has been to ensure that the farm-raised catfish served to American families is safe and nutritious. The U.S.D.A. is in the best position to get this done,” said Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, who pressed to have the inspections moved.



One country’s food safety program is another’s non-tariff trade barrier; catfish threaten US trade deal

Ten Asian and Pacific nations have, according to the N.Y. Times, told the Office of the United States Trade Representative that the Agriculture Department’s catfish inspection program violates international law, and their objections could hamper Obama administration efforts to reach a major Pacific trade agreement by the end of next year.

catfishdThey say that the inspection program is a trade barrier erected under the guise of a food safety measure and that it violates the United States’ obligations under World Trade Organization agreements. Among the countries protesting are Vietnam and Malaysia, which are taking part in talks for the trade agreement — known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — and have the ability to derail or hold up those negotiations.

The complaints are outlined in a May 28 letter signed by diplomats from the 10 countries. The letter does not threaten retaliation, but it stresses that the American catfish program stood in the way of the trade talks.

Catfish inspection program plays politics with food safety

Byron Truglio, the retired chief of the FDA’s Seafood Processing and Technology Policy Branch, writes:

The Food and Drug Administration is charged with protecting consumers from hazards related to seafood products sold in the United States. The success of the FDA’s seafood inspection program is showcased by the excellent level of seafood safety we enjoy. ? ?In spite of this success, the FDA takes center stage in occasional Congressional battles. Such is the case with an on-going debate about catfish inspection. Yes, at a time when most Americans want their government to tackle the big challenges, some on the Hill are seeking millions in new spending for a low risk species of fish.

Catfish, like all fish, is FDA regulated. FDA Seafood Hazardous Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) regulations hold seafood importers responsible for the seafood safety controls performed by their overseas suppliers the same way they hold domestic producers responsible. The FDA and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention consider catfish a low-risk product. There have been no reports of catfish related salmonella illnesses in the last 14 years.? ?Despite the fact that the inspection of catfish, as well as the inspection of other riskier fish products, is working quite well, some in Congress passed legislation to move catfish monitoring to the USDA.

If the plan goes forward, businesses that process multiple species would see regulatory oversight from both the FDA and the USDA. Since the USDA has yet to develop a regulatory strategy, the results will be turmoil for seafood purveyors — nonsensical redundancy over the inspection of a “low risk” product. ? ?The new duplicate rules will not come cheap. The Government Accountability Office puts the price tab at $30 million just to get USDA up and running. It has identified the program as wasteful and recommends that it be scrapped.? ?The inspiration for this rush to spend $30 million (to start) of hard earned taxpayer dollars on a non-existent problem is a group of lobbyists and a trade association representing elements of the American catfish producers. This group has bullied Congress into moving catfish regulation to the USDA, making it harder for their foreign competitors to enter the US market.

This move is a win for US catfish producers, but ultimately, a loss for American taxpayers and consumers. The catfish program is so ridiculous it has attracted a coalition of unlikely allies in opposition to it, including Senators Tom Coburn, John Kerry, John McCain, Bill Nelson and Jeanne Shaheen. As the USDA inches closer to catfish inspection, it is time for more members of Congress to speak up. As Senators McCain and Coburn made clear when they introduced legislation to prevent the expansion of catfish inspections, this regulation is “nothing more than a protectionist tactic funded at taxpayers’ expense.” ? ?

There is no room for politics in food safety. If the public was better protected by moving catfish to USDA. I would be the first person to speak up. Science makes clear that Americans are safe from catfish. Whether they are safe from politicians looking to use tax dollars for pet projects remains in question.