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September 18, 2007   Email to Friend 

Survey Says: Foreign Catfish Goes Belly Up
Debra Davis

A new national survey shows that, in the face of ongoing Chinese food safety dangers, an overwhelming majority of Americans want to know where their fish and seafood comes from.

According to the survey, 97 percent of respondents want to know if they are eating imported or U.S. farm-raised catfish when dining at restaurants. Of that number, more than 90 percent support legislation requiring restaurants to provide country-of-origin labeling (commonly referred to as C.O.O.L) on their menus.

Although U.S. law requires seafood sold in grocery stores to clearly display the product's origin, currently there is no federal legislation requiring such a disclosure by restaurants.

Roger Barlow, president of The Catfish Institute says, "Consumers know that without this legislation, there is a potentially serious risk from bacteria, chemicals and other contaminants. And they know that U.S. farmers provide the healthiest food the world has to offer.

"These research findings are exactly in line with other recent surveys on this subject, conducted by both Consumer Reports and MSNBC," said Barlow. "Without a doubt, consumers want to know where their food comes from."

Noteworthy findings from the research include the following:

• 97 percent of U.S. consumers want to know whether they are eating imported or U.S. farm-raised catfish in restaurants.

• 90 percent believe country-of-origin Labeling for catfish should be a legislative requirement for restaurant menus.

• 96 percent of U.S. consumers believe catfish raised in foreign countries and sold in the U.S. should be held to the same standards as catfish raised and sold in the United States.

• 94 percent of U.S. consumers are concerned that less than 1 percent of imported fish is inspected by U.S. authorities.

• More than 95 percent of the respondents said they prefer to purchase seafood that has been inspected by the U.S. government before being sold.

• 85 percent of Americans felt U.S. food is safer than China's.

• 91 percent of U.S. consumers think it is important for food supplies to be sustainable.

The national survey carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent and was conducted by New South Research of Birmingham, June 25-26. The Catfish Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the U.S. farm-raised catfish industry, funded the survey. The Catfish Institute is based in Jackson, Miss.

The U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish industry also has developed an Internet site urging consumers to sign a petition in support of country-of-origin labeling requirements for restaurants.

The new Web site, www.USCatfish.com, which also teaches consumers about the safety, quality and sustainability of U.S. farm-raised catfish, features print advertisements and radio ads now airing throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. In Alabama, a radio advertisement recorded by Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks encourages consumers to log on and sign the electronic petition to show support for country-of-origin labeling in restaurants. Sparks also encourages people to ask restaurants where their fish came from before they order.

The industry's primary goal is to require restaurants to state whether the fish they are serving is U.S. farm-raised catfish, or an imported product from China or other parts of Asia. Government officials and U.S. farm-raised catfish producers have long been wary of imported Asian catfish-like species that continue to flood the nation's seafood industry.

Little, if any, government regulation enables Asian importers to ship food products, such as catfish or wheat, with potentially dangerous additives into the United States.

During the 12 months ending January 2007, 49 shipments of Chinese farmed catfish were refused by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because they contained banned and potentially dangerous chemicals and antibiotics. In January 2007 alone, 10 shipments were refused entry, up from two refusals in January 2006.

Consumers are encouraged to look for the U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish seal in grocery stores and to demand to know where their fish is from at restaurants.

To sign the petition, visit www.USCatfish.com.

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