Op-Ed

Ky. Voices: Support catfish labeling bill

House Bill 115 requires retail food establishments to inform customers of the country of origin of the catfish they serve. Last month, it passed the House Agriculture Committee by a convincing vote of 20 "yeas" to two "nays" and two "passes."

Its fate in the full House and Senate, however, is unclear as it is opposed by the state restaurant association and national chain restaurants.

Here are some reasons the catfish labeling bill deserves support:

 It is a common-sense response to the risks Kentucky consumers face from illegal and hazardous drugs and chemicals — including cancer-causing substances frequently found in catfish species imported from communist China and Vietnam.

Angela Caporelli, the state Department of Agriculture aquaculture specialist, has testified that there is a continuing and serious problem with additives to Asian catfish imports, and that Agriculture Commissioner James Comer supports the legislation.

 Ninety-two percent of consumers in Kentucky said they support this restaurant labeling requirement in a January 2010 survey. Eighty-two percent said they would choose U.S. catfish over imported fish if they knew they had a choice.

 Seventy percent of the catfish species eaten by Americans is consumed in restaurants.

 Federal law requires supermarkets to identify the country of origin of seafood sold, but it does not require restaurants to do so.

 No significant Kentucky government expenditure would be required to implement this law.

 The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee have enacted similar laws and restaurants there report no problems in complying.

 The Catfish Institute, which represents America's catfish farmers, will provide free signage, menu stickers and other promotional help to assist Kentucky restaurants that serve U.S. catfish to help them comply with a labeling law.

 The law would not prohibit restaurants from serving imported catfish or catfish-like species, but it would require restaurant patrons to be informed of the country of origin of the fish served so diners can make their own choice.

 According to the latest (2007) USDA farm census, there were 41 catfish farms in Kentucky and enactment of this law could help expand their businesses, encourage new farms to open and create new jobs in Kentucky at no cost to taxpayers.

These farms are located in the Jackson Purchase region, one of the state's poorest.

James Tidwell, director of the Kentucky State University aquaculture division, testified that HB 115 could help Kentucky catfish farmers double production within one year and enable them to meet much of the state's demand for catfish in the long-term.

Let lawmakers know you support this legislation.

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