US food safety service requests more info for catfish ban review

- Chief Fisheries Officer

Additional documentation will have to be sent to the Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture as part of Guyana’s bid to resume exportation of catfish, according to Chief Fisheries Officer Denzil Roberts.

Roberts told Stabroek News that while documentation was sent to the FSIS several months ago for review, more was requested since the agency was not satisfied with what was initially sent.

“We had a conference meeting last month and we had sent it to them and they had a bit more stuff they wanted and we are currently working on that,” Roberts noted, while stating that the documentation should be sent by this week.

He also noted that the process has been moving at a slow pace since it takes some time for the documentation to be reviewed.

“They took maybe three weeks or more before they sent it back and they had indicated that they have to come to do an audit too. When we send up these documents, hopefully it satisfies them and they will come to do the audit,” Roberts added.

In 2015, FSIS amended its regulations to establish a mandatory inspection programme for the catfish species 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.

Guyana failed to meet the new standards in three areas: the presence of inspectors; insufficient documentation detailing verification of each step in the sanitation and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point; and insufficient documentation specifying how the industry manages adulterated (tainted) catfish products.

Guyana has been working towards compliance with the new standards for the export of catfish to the United States since 2016, Roberts had related in March.

The US Embassy had said in a statement in March that the Guyana government had been notified of the revised regulations as it relates to catfish imports 18 months before the changes were slated to take effect. However, despite the lengthy notice, no affirmative actions were taken to ensure that the country became compliant with the new rules.

The lack of compliance has resulted in catfish exporters not been able to tap into the American market and owner of Sukdeo and Sons Fishing Enterprise had told this newspaper that he has suffered major losses since the ban.

He had explained that the US market contributed to more than 40% of the exports leaving the country and since it is no longer accessible, fishermen and other persons who support the industry are stand to suffer heavily.

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