Senate Health and Human Services Hears Fishy Bill

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We Texans love our catfish, so much so that we consume a whopping 100 million pounds of it per year.

While most of Texas’ catfish comes from domestic fish farms, many restaurants purchase cheaper foreign-raised fish that may have been raised in dirty water and pumped with chemicals.

Today the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard a bill by state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, that would require restaurants to print a consumer advisory on their menus alerting customers to where the catfish being served came from. Hegar, whose district is big into catfish farming, said fish from Vietnam and China are raised in contaminated waters. They’re also injected with antibiotics and chemicals that are illegal in the United States, posing potential health risks for consumers. The United States Department of Agriculture is responsible for managing catfish imports, and Hegar said the department only tests a small percentage of what comes into the United States.

“This bill is not, as some would say, about product promotion,” he said. “It’s about health and safety. Given what I know about the conditions (Asian catfish) are raised, I’m surprised anyone would consume them.”

Carole Engle, a professor at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff and director of the fisheries center, testified in favor of the bill and echoed Hegar’s health and safety concerns. She has visited fish farms along the Mekong River in China she learned that household, factory and slaughterhouse waste is regularly dumped into the water.

“Fish tend to take up whatever substances are in the water,” she said. “The river system is a waste disposal area…and the fish are constantly being bathed in the water.”

Richie Jackson, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, opposed Hegar’s bill, calling it “market managing” rather than public safety. Jackson defended the USDA and Food and Drug Administration’s inspection practices, saying they’ve been working to increase the amounts of imported food they test. Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jackson told the committee that of there have only been seven recent cases repoof food borne illnesses from catfish, all due to mishandling.

“The levels of contaminants are very low,” he said. “The CDC and FDA consider catfish as low risk.”