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August 14, 2009   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
August 14, 2009

From left, Gov. Bob Riley enjoys U.S. farm-raised catfish with Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Committee Chairman Townsend of Hale County, Federation Catfish Division Director Mitt Walker, and Dallas County catfish farmer Will Pearce at the Farmers Market Cafe in Montgomery.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - August is Catfish Month in Alabama and the celebration includes a new law that lets consumers know if the fish they eat in restaurants was grown by U.S. farmers.

HB 473, sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, passed the Senate by a 30-1 vote during the final days of the regular session earlier this year. The bill was later signed by Gov. Bob Riley and requires country-of-origin labeling of catfish served in restaurants. Riley joined catfish farmers Townsend Kyser of Hale County and Will Pearce of Dallas County for lunch Friday at a Montgomery restaurant where, of course, the menu was farmed-raised catfish.

"The passage of this bill was a victory for Alabama catfish producers as well as consumers," said Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Director Mitt Walker. "Representative McCampbell's tireless support of this bill was critical to working through concerns raised by opponents and securing passage in the House. Sen. Lowell Barron was instrumental in getting the bill on the Senate calendar, and Sen. Bobby Singleton's support helped ensure an overwhelming positive vote."

In recent years, imported catfish from Vietnam and China has flooded the U.S. market despite repeatedly testing positive for chemicals and antibiotics banned in this country, Kyser said. Grocery stores already are required by federal law to label the country of origin for all fish products and Kyser said 95 percent of Alabamians surveyed said restaurants should follow the same guidelines.

"U.S. government and Alabama Department of Agriculture officials have repeatedly found imported catfish to contain contaminants, chemicals and drugs that are banned in U.S. food," Kyser said. "Alabamians want to know they are getting safe, delicious U.S. farm-raised catfish, and this new law assures that's what they get in restaurants."

Additionally, the rising numbers of imported and often mislabeled fish that were sold as catfish sent catfish farmers' profits plummeting.

In 2003, imported fish made up less than 4 percent of fish consumed in the United States. In six short years, that number jumped to nearly 50 percent. Unfortunately, most Alabamians likely assumed the catfish they were eating was produced in the U.S. under strict food safety guidelines, but as these statistics show, this is increasingly no longer the case, Walker said.

There is no cost or expense to restaurants serving U.S. farm-raised catfish for adding signage or labels stating "country of origin" for catfish because the catfish industry is providing these materials to Alabama restaurants serving U.S. farm-raised catfish free of charge through the Alabama Department of Public Health.

For more information contact Walker at MWalker@AlfaFarmers.org or call (334) 613-4757.

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