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Government extends review of catfish inspection rules

By Kimberly Kindy
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.

Officials with the State Department, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and several members of Congress are critical of the proposal, saying foreign catfish imports are being unfairly targeted, particularly Pangagius fish from Vietnam. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack's proposed rules include fish from Vietnam that cannot be labeled or marketed as catfish in the United States.

Catfish producers from both China and Vietnam, along with officials from state agencies, are also saying the rules do not allow sufficient time for foreign producers to convert from the current FDA's inspection process. Under the farm bill passed in 2008, catfish inspections are moving to the USDA.

Negotiating formal agreements with foreign governments for the USDA inspections typically take beween two to five years. A draft copy of the proposed rules, obtained by the Washington Post, shows 18 months are being given under the proposed program. If agreements can not be reached within that time frame, foreign importers say it would effectively ban their product from being imported and trade wars would result.

The OMB posted the extension on its Web site but did not set a new deadline. Officials with the USDA did not return calls or e-mails from The Post seeking comment.

By Kimberly Kindy  |  February 16, 2010; 7:01 PM ET
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