USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service last week issued a final rule establishing an inspection program for Siluriformes fish, including catfish.
The rule applies to both domestically-raised and imported fish and was developed in order to implement provisions required by the 2014 Farm Bill. The rule will become effective in March 2016, 90 days after it publishes in the Federal Register.
The final rule is the end of a seven-year discussion to bring inspection responsibilities to the FSIS from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It allows FSIS to require all catfish producers and processors, both domestic and foreign, to abide by the same food safety standards.
The USDA-led food inspection process already inspects 100% of imported farm-raised protein sources like poultry, pork and beef.
The new system would replace the FDA inspection process that examined less than 2% of the fish imported into the United States, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), including limited tests for unapproved drugs and chemicals used by producers in developing countries to enhance yields and address diseases.
USDA crafted the rule to comply with the World Trade Organization Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement.
"FSIS is committed to a smooth and gradual introduction to the new inspection program, which was mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill," said Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. "The agency will conduct extensive outreach to domestic industry and international partners so that they fully understand FSIS' requirements prior to full implementation."
The March 2016 effective date of the rule begins an 18-month transitional implementation period for both domestic and international producers. On the March 2016 effective date, all Siluriformes fish, including catfish, will be completely under the regulatory jurisdiction of FSIS and no longer regulated by FDA.
Before the effective date of the final rule, countries currently exporting product to the United States that wish to continue doing so must provide a list of establishments that currently export, as well as written documentation of their regulatory authority and compliance with existing FDA import requirements.
During the transitional period, FSIS will conduct inspection during all hours of operation at domestic establishments that slaughter and process Siluriformes fish, similar to inspection provided at meat and poultry slaughter and processing facilities, while also providing the establishments with close guidance to ensure that they understand FSIS' requirements. During this time, inspection program personnel will also be assigned to visit domestic Siluriformes fish processing establishments, at least once per quarter.
Also during the 18-month transitional period, FSIS will re-inspect and conduct species and residue sampling on imported Siluriformes fish shipments at least quarterly at U.S. import establishments on a random basis.
Additionally, countries wishing to continue exporting product to the United States after the transitional period must apply for an equivalency determination. Applications for equivalency must be complete by the end of the 18-month transitional period. FSIS will assist countries with their equivalency applications. Countries that submit completed documentation demonstrating equivalency by the 18-month deadline will be able to continue exporting to the United States while the agency conducts a full equivalency evaluation, which includes an on-site audit. If additional information is required, FSIS will request that the foreign country respond or resubmit complete equivalence documentation within 90 days of receiving FSIS's request.
Following the18-month transitional period, inspection program personnel will continue to be assigned to conduct inspection during all hours of operation at domestic slaughter and processing establishments, and at least once per shift at processing-only establishments, which is similar to requirements for other food products that FSIS regulates. Also beginning at the end of the 18-month transitional period, FSIS will re-inspect and conduct species and residue tests on all incoming shipments.