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FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Catfish controversy points to problem

The Mississippi State University study on catfish is about more than taste and purity. It's about competition and control.

MSU is now calling the study "preliminary" and says release of the findings was premature. That, of course, is after the domestic catfish lobby boxed academic ears for the study in which a panel of judges favored the taste of basa, or Vietnamese catfish, 3 to 1 over Mississippi pond-raised catfish.

The study also found the basa to be nutritionally on par with domestic catfish and that they contain no more bacteria, which seems to undercut a long-standing rumor.

MSU undertook the study because the Vietnamese raise basa in large wire pens in the Mekong River, said to be polluted with fecal matter.

Imports, especially from emerging countries, create weak links in the American food chain because of the lack of oversight, and suspicion.

The government does inspect imports but the best it may be able to accomplish to protect its citizens in this global economy is to insist on clear labeling and leave purchase up to consumers.

The government says consumers bought some 300 million pounds of catfish last year and 9 million pounds of basa, which doesn't seem like much competition unless you are one of the 100,000 Mississippi catfish farmers.

Thus, the Catfish Farmers of America jumped on the "preliminary" findings quickly and hard as the industry adjusts to the new economy.

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