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Mississippi blocks sale of some Chinese catfish

Published May 3, 2007


Mississippi halted some grocery store sales of Chinese catfish Tuesday because the fish contained low levels of the same antibiotics that prompted Alabama to halt sales of the same fish last week.

The antibiotics do not present an immediate health danger, but their use in animals harvested for food is banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because they create drug-resistant bacteria that could eventually harm humans.

"Alabama's results and these results and the pet food scare we are going through clearly points out the inherent danger of foreign food coming into this country that does not meet the standards of food safety that ours do, " said Lester Spell, Mississippi's commissioner of agriculture and commerce.

Chinese farmers acquired fingerlings of U.S. catfish several years ago and began exporting frozen fish more cheaply than U.S. farmers can raise them. China provides less than 5 percent of U.S. catfish sales, but it is rapidly grabbing market share.

U.S. catfish farmers contend the Chinese use antibiotics to keep fish alive in polluted waters.

Alabama announced last week that 14 of 20 Chinese catfish bought from import warehouses were contaminated by a family of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. The agriculture commissioner halted sale of all Chinese catfish in that state.

Mississippi purchased eight Chinese catfish from stores around the state. Five samples contained fluoroquinolones, said agriculture spokesman Andy Prosser. The other three samples are still being tested.

Mississippi's order applied only to the five stores that sold the fish, Prosser said, because the agriculture department does not have jurisdiction over restaurants or wholesalers. His agency is working with state health authorities to trace where other fish from those import batches ended up.

The FDA has tested 45 samples of Chinese catfish nationwide for antibiotics since October, and none violated the federal standard of 5 parts per billion, said spokesman Veronica Castro.

Alabama and Mississippi, both major catfish-farming states, have a "zero tolerance" threshold, so even 1 part per billion is considered tainted.

None of the Mississippi fish exceeded the federal standard, though seven of Alabama fish did.

[Last modified May 3, 2007, 01:28:05]

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