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Point of View: Discrimination rampant with Chinese catfish

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Bill Pearce
November 01, 2007

In the United States, we take pride in telling the world we are a land free of discrimination. But when it comes to other countries doing business in the United States, especially Asia, there's more bigotry here than anywhere else in the world.

A prime example is the recent injustice with the Chinese catfish industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that the illegal antibiotics and fungicides found in some Chinese catfish imports were not harmful nor life threatening. Dr. Robert Cox, director of the Mississippi Poison Control Center, was quoted in the press as saying he was so sure that Chinese catfish posed no harm that he'd feed the fish to his family.

But Southern catfish growers, processors and the industry's lobbying group [the Catfish Farmers of America] pushed for the FDA import alert, causing financial harm to many poor people. As the flow of Chinese catfish imports slowed due to the import alert, prices of Chinese catfish increased and domestic growers were able to better compete with imports and liquidate their already excessive inventories.

Domestic catfish processors regularly import Chinese catfish, bread it in the United States, and then label it as "made in America." The farms I've visited in China have all hosted U.S. catfish processors.

China's growing ponds are very small, family-run operations. Knowing these people as well as I do, to see a mom, pop and kids living in a shack beside their pond with no income keeps me awake at night. The import alert put hundreds of family-run Chinese farms out of business for no reason. What if hundreds of U.S. family farms were unjustly put out of business by this type of bigotry, would you stand behind them?

The only companies we should be proud of are the toy companies, which assumed responsibility for their product specifications.

We overfish our waters, we demand large quantities of affordable seafood from overseas and we give the Chinese orders for all of this seafood because we can not process enough in the United States. Are they not following our requests? There have been no major recalls of Chinese catfish and most of the Chinese seafood-processing plants I've visited are more sanitary than their U.S. counterparts.

The Chinese farmers and packers who survived the import alert cured this minor fish-feed problem within two days of notification. They also took it upon themselves to establish pre-testing with reports attached to documents before entry into the United States, the way any ethical business person would have handled it.

If a few had not discriminated and we had just notified the Chinese, no one would have lost a dime and we would have shown the real spirit of the United States. Instead our hearts and spirits found their way to our pocketbooks. We all want the world to be a free, democratic place. Let's start in our own industry and join hands with our Chinese partners.

We cannot live without imports: China is here to stay. You can't beat it, so make it work for you.

 

Bill Pearce is a certified executive chef and research chef with Crab Source LLC and is a Certified Asian Seafood Specialist in Mechanicsville, Va.

 

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