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Association of Food and Drug Officials

COMMENTS

May 16, 2011

Docket Clerk
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
Room 2-2127 George Washington Carver Center
5601 Sunnyside Ave.
Beltsville, MD 20705

RE: Comments from the Association of Food and Drug Officials Docket No. FSIS-2008-0031, “Mandatory Inspection of Catfish and Catfish Products”

The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) is pleased to provide comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS), regarding its proposed rule governing mandatory inspection of catfish and catfish products.

AFDO is the preeminent organization in the United States of federal, state and local regulatory officials, having promoted science-based food safety through the development of model laws and regulations, and providing uniform training over its 115-year history.  AFDO is well-recognized for advocating a nationally-integrated food safety system that would reduce duplication and gaps which exist in the current system of regulating foods. AFDO has also expressed its concern for addressing food safety through a “piecemeal” approach where preventative controls are administered to a single food commodity or food sector rather than in a more broad fashion. It is from this perspective that AFDO is providing comments relative to the proposed rule.

The USDA/FSIS proposed rule is designed to ensure commercial catfish and catfish products are properly labeled, packaged, and are not adulterated. The proposed rule singles out domestic and imported catfish for regulation by FSIS under a “continuous inspection” program that is comparable to FSIS programs governing meat, poultry, and processed egg products.

The proposed rule would represent a shift in the regulatory oversight applied to commercial catfish production which will have a substantial impact on both domestic and foreign catfish and catfish producers.  Affected producers would be subject to a greater regulatory burden in the form of continuous inspection, new recordkeeping requirements, and the pre-approval of labeling. AFDO does not believe catfish and catfish products pose unique food safety concerns which warrant producers of these products to adhere to these more stringent requirements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have both concluded that catfish and catfish products are a low-risk food, and FSIS has not provided any new information to date to affect that conclusion. Furthermore, there appears to be no existing rule which relieves FDA of its responsibility for regulating these products. The result is more fragmentation in the federal food safety system and the possibility of more duplication of effort.  At a time when food safety resources are dwindling, this proposed rule seems very poorly timed.  As the proposal is a required response to implement the 2008 Farm Bill, and absent any change or amendment to the law, mandatory inspection of catfish and catfish products will become a reality. Accordingly, AFDO provides the following specific comments to the proposed rule:

  • 1)     As AFDO views food safety system fragmentation as counterproductive, AFDO cannot support any further fragmentation to this system by exempting certain catfish species through definition. AFDO supports the application of the proposed rule to all fish of the order of Siluriformes.

  • 2)     AFDO does support the added scrutiny of imported catfish and catfish products, as AFDO does for all imported food. The same standards applied to domestic food production should likewise be applied to foreign-produced foods.

  • 3)     AFDO does not have any illness data to share, and AFDO relies on data provided by CDC, which indicates there have been seven (7) illness outbreaks since 1991 that may have been associated with catfish. Four (4) of these outbreaks were from retail establishments (restaurants or grocery deli), two (2) from a private home, and one (1) from a workplace where contributing factors such as temperature abuse, inadequate reheating, and poor sanitation were identified. Additionally, available data on chemical contamination, including FSIS’ own sampling of catfish, does not, in AFDO’s view, demonstrate a need for these regulations.

  • 4)     AFDO would recommend a definition for “slaughterhouse” be provided, as circumstances exist where catfish may have died under conditions other than the controlled circumstances of commercial processing. This definition could also clarify the possibility of processing “wild caught” catfish. This may not be necessary if only fish of the Ictaluridae family is subject to this rule but would most likely be necessary if all fish of the order Siluroformes are subject.

  • 5)     Exemptions generally cause interpretation problems among the various government agencies involved in food safety; therefore, AFDO recommends USDA/FSIS very clearly clarify all exemptions to this rule. While USDA/FSIS is considering applying its poultry exemption model, this model has not been without its problems. AFDO assumes that custom slaughter and processing will be exempt from resident inspection, provided the firm is operating under acceptable sanitation requirements. The retail exemptions for individual households (single sales of 75 lbs.) and non-households (150 lbs.) seem reasonable, although difficult to verify.

  • 6)     AFDO recommends the federal inspection brand be similar to the current brand for meat, poultry, and processed eggs, and that the processing facilities be numbered. AFDO does not support utilizing any special inspection brand for catfish.

  • 7)     It may be impractical to inspection stamp all carcasses of whole gutted catfish, and AFDO suggests other alternative measures be considered, such as branding master containers, affixing inspection lot tags, or marking invoices that accompany any shipments.

  • 8)     AFDO believes the appropriate regulatory approach for USDA/FSIS to employ with catfish and catfish products is the inspection verification system and not the command and control system. The verification system is similar to FDA’s for all other seafood products.

  • 9)     Nearly all state food safety inspection programs are currently conducting Seafood HACCP inspections under contract for FDA. As is done with meat, poultry, and processed eggs, USDA/FSIS should develop Cooperative Agreements for state programs to conduct catfish and catfish products inspections.

AFDO is most appreciative of the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations. Should you have additional questions or need clarification on any of the topics discussed herein, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Ronald S. Klein

AFDO President

            


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