Senator backs catfish-origin label bill

Published 5:00 am Monday, March 17, 2008

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has been at the center of acountry of origin catfish labeling bill designed to give consumersmore information about what they’re eating.

The bill has passed out of Hyde-Smith’s Agriculture Committeeand has been sent to the Public Health Committee.

“The bill would require restaurants in Mississippi to indicateon a placard whether or not they serve farm-raised U.S. catfish,”said Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven.

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Hyde-Smith said representatives from the restaurant industryhave recommended that only restaurants serving foreign catfishshould be required to display the placard.

“There was some opposition from the restaurant industry – theydon’t want to have to put up the placard,” she said. “It will be aninteresting vote, because they’re planning to fight it prettyhard.”

Hyde-Smith countered that eateries serving U.S. pond-raisedcatfish should be the ones to identify themselves.

“Obviously, this would not harm their business at all – it mighteven help it,” she said.

Hyde-Smith said she expects the bill to pass out of the PublicHealth Committee by Tuesday, despite the opposition from therestaurant industry. She also believes the proposed placards willserve as health banners, as some foreign-raised catfish could havebeen raised in the presence of chemicals and toxic agents.

“That’s the reason I feel this is a good bill – for the safetyof the consumers who buy U.S. catfish,” Hyde-Smith said. “They havethe right to know what they’re buying and what they’re eating.”

Hyde-Smith also said the Senate has been working extensively onthe Veterinary Practice Act – a bill proposed by the MississippiBoard of Veterinary Medicine that would mandate tri-annualinspections of veterinary clinics.

“The inspections are kind of a request from within,” she said.”Right now, no one checks vet clinics for cleanliness or narcoticsstorage.”

The Senate bill says there will be a $150 charge for a clinicand a $50 charge for the practitioner in the clinic to pay for theexaminer charge and any associated expenses, the senator said.

Some of the language in the state’s veterinary laws also had tobe amended to allow Mississippi State University to hire a catfishspecialist from China to instruct vet students on catfish care. Thelaws previously mandated that veterinary professors had to beaccredited in the U.S., and the Chinese specialist graduated from avet school in Europe.

“Because Mississippi produces so much catfish, we had to havesomeone in the vet school to teach students so they would be moreaware on how to treat catfish,” Hyde-Smith said.

Hyde-Smith’s work at the center of the veterinary measures waswell publicized, as students at MSU’s vet school took advantage ofthe Senate’s streaming Internet camera to watch her speak from thepodium.

“The minute I sat down, I received a text message from thestudents thanking me for handling their bill,” Hyde-Smith said.”You forget all about the streaming video. It’s pretty interestingthe way things are done now.”

This week, the Senate floor will be a busy place, as thedeadline for pushing House bills out of committee is Tuesday. Abill dealing with deer baiting is still afloat in the Senate, as isa bill concerned with equipping sheriff’s departments withradar.

“Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant let us know that we will have a very busyweek getting through the calender with our House bills,” Hyde-Smithsaid.