US Embassy says Guyana advised since November 2015 of pending regulations for catfish

The US Embassy here says that Guyana was notified since November 2015 of the steps that needed to be taken to avoid a ban on the export of catfish to the United States but that the country is still not in compliance.

In a statement yesterday, the US Embassy said that the notification came more than 18 months before the amended regulations pertaining to catfish (siluriformes) were to take effect.

“We even gave Guyana an extension until February 3, 2018 to comply with the new regulations,” the statement said, while pointing out that most countries in the hemisphere have already complied with the regulations and the US believes that Guyana eventually “can and will comply as well.”

“We understand that the Government of Guyana is working on complying but it has not fully met the standards of the new processes associated with the regulations and until it does we cannot accept any catfish from Guyana,” the Embassy said, while adding that the US has offered technical assistance to help Guyanese fishermen and women to comply.

The embassy says that the offer still stands but it cannot be accomplished overnight and the goal of the US is to ensure consistency in food safety regulations across products and countries, and to protect marine life for future generations.

“The US government takes very seriously the protection of the world’s waterways and marine life and is constantly updating our regulations and processes to ensure that the waterways and marine life are protected,” the statement added.

The statement by the US embassy would raise questions about why the ministries of agriculture and public health had not taken the requisite steps to comply with the new regulations given the now more than two years that have elapsed since the original notification.

Stabroek News was unable to get a comment from the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture on this matter.

In 2015, the US Food Safety inspection Services (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, demand the presence of inspectors on plants for one hour during an 8-hour shift. According to the US Department of Agriculture website, though the standards became effective in 2016, a transitional period was granted before full enforcement on September 1st, 2017. Guyana was given a further extension to February 3rd 2018.

On Tuesday, Veterinary Health Director Dr Ozaye Dodson through a press release from the Ministry of Public Health had described the temporary ban as a “protectionist measure” by the United States of America’s health department and the catfish farmers who have invested heavily to develop the industry there.

Guyana 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.

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.

“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 Ministry’s statement had 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.”

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