Vietnam Responds to US Catfish Ban

Viet Nam News, September 1, 2005

HA NOI — Vietnam has consistently followed a strict policy on food safety and hygiene, including controlling the use of antibiotics in seafood farming, the Ministry of Fisheries affirmed yesterday in response to a recent ban by three US states on imports of Vietnamese tra and basa catfish.
In an official statement released yesterday, the ministry said it had issued four decisions since 2002, the latest on March 7, 2005, and governing seafood quality and safety requirements, including the control of chemical residues in seafood.

To meet the requirements of importers worldwide, including the US, Vietnam has banned or limited the use of a list of chemicals, a list largely based on EU and US rulings, it said.

Fluoroquinolones, considered an illegal antibiotic by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), were found in several basa fish samples imported from Vietnam. The ministry said it had included the chemicals on the ban or limited use list in its Decision 07/2005/QD-BTS dated February 24, 2005. At the time of the decision the US had banned the use of the chemicals, whereas the EU and international agencies concerned with food safety standards had allowed their limited use.

The decision clarified that any chemicals used in seafood farming must be safety tested before being approval by the Vietnam National Fisheries Quality Assurance and Veterinary Directorate.
"While the use of chemicals with fluoroquinolones is still in a trial period in Vietnam, no such chemicals have been given a permit for use so far," the statement said.

The US bans the antibiotics in food products, fearing that bacteria could build up an immunity to the drugs, or that consumers could have allergic reactions.

In a move to quickly respond to the FDA finding of fluoroquinolones in some Vietnamese tra and basa catfish, the ministry on August 18 officially banned the use of these chemicals. The ministry, in addition, has asked all bodies in charge of seafood farming to tighten control over quality and hygiene and Vietnamese seafood producers and exporters to improve their production facilities to meet the high quality standards demanded by importing countries worldwide.

The ministry has also asked the National Fisheries Quality Assurance and Veterinary Directorate to update the FDA on Vietnam’s latest moves in ensuring the high quality of its exported seafood.
Under FDA regulations, when an outlawed chemical is found in a product imported into the US, the importer would be put on a black list, and five more shipments from that importer would be tested before the import ban would be lifted.

The states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi moved to ban the imported seafood outright when FDA inspections found antibiotics in seafood imported from Vietnam.

These three states in the Mississippi River Delta region of the US are home to domestic fisheries industries that produce catfish and shrimp products.

Domestic American producers were moving forces behind previous complaints to the US government that Vietnamese competitors were dumping products on the US market.

Vietnam, the world’s largest tra and basa catfish producer, plans to produce 500,000 tons this year, 200,000 tons more than last year. Local producers churned out some 200,000 tons in the first five months of this year, according to the Ministry of Fisheries. — VNS