Alabama enacts catfish, seafood origin disclosure

n The law is similar to laws already enacted in Mississippi.
By PHILLIP RAWLS
The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY – Restaurants in Alabama will have to start disclosing the country of origin of their catfish and seafood.
Gov. Bob Riley said Thursday he has signed two fish labeling bills passed by the Legislature last week.
“Most people in Alabama would like to know if this came from a foreign country or it was grown in America,” Riley said at an impromptu news conference.
Riley, who owns a cattle farm in Ashland, said the legislation will help catfish farmers in Alabama and other Southern states showcase their product.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, requires restaurants to give notice either on a sign or on the menu that consumers have the right to know, upon request, the country of origin of the farm-raised or wild fish and shellfish being served by a restaurant.
The other bill, sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Linden, requires restaurants to give notice on a sign or on the menu of the country of origin of their catfish. Restaurants’ ads for catfish have to say if the fish being served is foreign.
The State Board of Health will enforce both laws. The laws provide warnings for a first violation and fines for subsequent violations. The catfish law takes effect in August and the seafood law in January.
Brian Hardin, director of agricultural legislation for the Alabama Farmers Federation, said Alabama is the nation’s second largest catfish producer. But he said growers have been hurt by cheaper foreign imports that don’t have the same safety requirements and labor costs as American products.
Foreign catfish account for nearly half of the restaurant sales of catfish nationwide, he said.
In 2007, state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks banned the sale of farm-raised catfish from China because of the use of unapproved drugs. The Food and Drug Administration then halted the products nationwide.
Sparks said Thursday there is a difference between domestic and foreign catfish.
Alabama’s law is similar to restaurant labeling laws already enacted in Mississippi and Arkansas. A federal labeling law covers grocery stores.
Larry Fidel, president of the Alabama Restaurant Association, said most catfish sold in Alabama restaurants are domestic, but his members are concerned the catfish law will lead to labeling laws for other products.

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