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August 21, 2001   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
August 21, 2001

"MONTGOMERY, Ala." The Alabama Catfish Producers, a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation, is encouraging consumers and restaurant owners to be on the lookout for Vietnam-produced fish that is being passed off as U.S. farm-raised catfish.

Dickie Odom, president of the Alabama Catfish Producers, said Vietnam fish products have been found in restaurants across the country bearing the words "farm-raised catfish" and other logos that could mislead consumers.

"Vietnam fish are not 'catfish,' and are certainly not produced under the same health and safety standards as Alabama farm-raised catfish," Odom said. "Our grain-fed catfish are raised in ponds filled with fresh well water. Vietnam fish are raised in a muddy river beneath houses and are fed a mixture of water plants, rice meal and immature fish."

Odom said imports of Vietnam fish have almost quadrupled in the past year as unscrupulous food distributors have attempted to take advantage of catfish's growing popularity. Federal authorities currently are investigating some of those packers for false labeling, but Odom said mislabeled products are still finding their way onto menus. He encouraged consumers to question restaurants about the country of origin of the fish they serve.

"For more than 30 years, the American catfish industry has worked hard to develop a market for its product," Odom said. "When the public buys 'catfish' they know they are getting a wholesome product that was raised and processed under strict food safety and environmental regulations. We don't want our loyal customers to be misled by Vietnam fish that might be not taste as good or be as good for them."

Odom said the real issue is truth in labeling.

"People have a choice in how they spend their money, but they also have the right to know what they are buying and where it was produced," Odom said. "If a person goes to the restaurant and orders a hamburger, they don't expect to be served a turkey burger. And, if they order catfish, they shouldn't be served fish from Vietnam."

Alabama ranks second only to Mississippi in catfish sales. The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Catfish Producers support country-of-origin labeling for all agricultural products.

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