The Retail Industry Leaders Association has voiced opposition to including swai and basa of Vietnam and other Asian whitefish in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) catfish inspections.

In its comments recently submitted to the USDA, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade association representing Wal-Mart and other large retailers, expressed "significant concerns" that the proposed regulation would reduce supply of imported fish, driving up prices for retailers and ultimately U.S. consumers.

Times Record, a daily newspaper serving western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma states of the US, quoted Stephanie Lester, Vice President of International Trade for the Association, as saying, "Those offerings would be expected to disappear from store shelves following issuance of a final rule. The lack of available product would be expected to cause instantaneous price increases."

The retail association also questioned the need for moving catfish regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which handles other seafood, to USDA, which inspects meat and poultry.

FDA and Centers for Disease Control regard catfish as a low risk to carrying salmonella or other food borne illnesses. No salmonella cases have been linked to catfish since FDA began its monitoring in 1997, Lester noted.

The USDA has received more than 250 comments over the last 90 days on a proposed regulation that would establish an inspection system for catfish that the U.S. Congress mandated in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. The public comment period ended July 1.

According to Times Report, a key issue that has yet to be determined is whether the rule will define "catfish" to a narrow or broad range of fish. In one case, the definition would mirror the one that the Congress established in 2002 for marketing purposes - limiting "catfish" to members of the "ictaluridae" family. In the other, it would broaden "catfish" to include members of the "siluriformes" species that would cover basa and swai imported from Vietnam and other whitefish from other Asian countries./.