Following a ban by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on catfish exports from Guyana, Veterinary Public Health Director Dr Ozaye Dodson says that local authorities are working to upgrade the fisheries legislation to resume trade.
According to a statement issued yesterday by the Ministry of Public Health, Dodson described the temporary ban as a “protectionist measure” by that country’s public health system and the catfish farmers who have invested heavily to develop the industry there.
And though he sees it as a temporary barrier to trade, Dodson also acknowledges it as nonetheless a “big blow.”
Under the 2002 Fisheries Act and the Fish and Fishery Product Regulations of 2003, Guyana’s Veterinary Public Health Department is mandated to guide the inspections manual to monitor, inspect and certify vessels, landing sites, fish processing establishments and fishery products for the local and export markets.
Dr Dodson said there are daily inspections and certification of the catfish products to guarantee their “wholesomeness for human consumption.”
The statement noted that Guyana, along with all other exporters of Catfish to the US market, was asked by the US Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) to provide the documentation to verify that this country’s inspection system was equivalent to the US standards or that its degree of public health system was equivalent to that of the US.
Though local authorities complied with the request, the country fell short of the US standards in three areas: the presence of inspectors; insufficient documentation detailing verification of each step in the sanitation and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP); and insufficient documentation specifying how the industry manages adulterated (tainted) catfish products.
In 2015, FSIS amended its regulations to establish a mandatory inspection programme for fish of the order Siluriformes and products derived from these fish.
The amendment was the result of a 15-year battle by the Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) to curtail Catfish imports from Vietnam. The US government had already passed the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, which amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), to make ‘‘catfish’’ a species amenable to the FMIA and, therefore, subject to FSIS inspection before removing the term ‘‘catfish’’ so as to make ‘‘all fish of the order Siluriformes’’ subject to FSIS jurisdiction and inspection.
The 2015 standards, which became effective on March 1st, 2016, demands the presence of inspectors on plants for one-hour during an 8-hour shift. According to the USDA website, though the standards became effective in 2016, a transitional period was granted before full enforcement on September 1st, 2017.
Guyana and several others countries, including Bangladesh, Canada, Domini-can Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan, were still unable as of March, 2018 to meet the requirements.
Instead, Dodson explained that Guyana’s inspection still pursues a “risk-based approach,” which is a European Union (EU) standard.
The Veterinary Public Health official said Guyana’s HACCP and documentation of its inspection frequency will have to be upgraded to satisfy the new US standards.
“Our (Fisheries) Act is broad, covering all species of fish. The US has specific regulations for the catfish species [and] there [have] been no changes to the local Act since 2003. There will have to be some adjustments to the Fisheries Act Inspection Manual and Regulations to bridge the gaps,” Dodson said, while adding that changes to the country’s Fisheries Act and Regulations will be taken shortly to the Attorney General’s Chambers and published in the Official Gazette.
The statement further explained that when this is accomplished, US officials will conduct an audit of the local fisheries department and other relevant agencies “to pave the way for the country’s likely re-entry into the American catfish export market.”
Dodson said the Veterinary Public Health Department is “working assiduously” with the Fisheries Unit of the Agriculture Ministry to realign Guyana’s legal framework with new US fishery export demands and counselled that there should be no “panic because of the new changes, it is just a temporary technical barrier to trade.”
According to the USDA website, only China, Thailand and Vietnam met the new requirements demanded outlined for the export of Catfish, Cuirass, Gilbacker and Hassar.