Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant
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Water Log 28.1, May, 2008

Mississippi Requires Disclosure of Catfish’s Country of Origin

On April 8, 2008, Governor Haley Barbour signed Mississippi House Bill 728 into law. Effective July 1, 2008, all retailers of catfish products in Mississippi will be required to clearly and visibly inform customers, at the final point of sale, of the origin of the catfish. According to the legislative findings, the disclosure law was spurred by concern over the use by foreign producers of antibiotics and chemicals not approved for use in the U.S. and seafood fraud (the misrepresentation of less expensive aquaculture products as pricier products). While that is probably true, those reasons are most likely secondary to the larger issue - protecting the domestic industry, especially Mississippi producers, from cheap foreign imports.

      A retailer is defined as “any person offering for sale catfish products to individual consumers and representing the last sale prior to human consumption and includes food service establishments.” A retailer may designate farm-raised catfish as having a U.S. country of origin only if it is “hatched, raised, harvested, and processed in the United States.” Catfish harvested in the waters of the United States and processed in the U.S. may also be labeled as having a U.S. country of origin. The notices must distinguish between farm-raised and river or lake catfish. The country of origin information may be provided to consumers by means of a “label, stamp, mark, placard, or other clear and visible sign on the catfish or on the package, display, holding unit or bin containing the catfish at its final point of sale.” To assist with compliance, distributors and wholesalers are required to provide country of origin information to the retailers.
Food service establishments, which include restaurants, cafeterias, food stands, and bars, must provide notice of country of origin on the menu. “For foreign or imported catfish, the information shall be adjacent to the item on the menu and printed in the same font style and size as the item.” If the establishment only sells domestic catfish, this information may be generally disclosed in a prominent location in lieu of disclosure on the menu. Any signage used to generally disclose this information must be approved by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC). Additionally, any advertisement of a catfish product must specify  the origin of the catfish.
      Upon discovery of a violation, MDAC shall notify the retailer in writing and give the retailer or food service establishment three days to correct the violation. If the violation is corrected during this window, no penalties shall apply. For a first offense, the retailer shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000. For a second offense, the fine is increased to $2,000. For subsequent violations, the retailer is subject to a $5,000 fine or the revocation of the retail or food establishment’s license. The license may be revoked indefinitely or until the violation is corrected.
      At press time, the text of the bill was available at http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2008/pdf/history/HB/HB0728.xml . Copies may be obtained upon request from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program at sealaw@olemiss.edu .Anchor, end of article


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