US regulatory pressure to push more pangasius to China

News   31/01/2018 - Nguyễn Trí Tín

MIAMI, Florida, US -- The recent regulatory pressure being applied in the US to the import of pangasius from Vietnam could serve as a “catalyst” to China taking an even larger percentage of the fish, Sang Phan, president of Vinh Hoan USA, the Tustin, California-based division of the Vietnamese pangasius producer, told attendees at the National Fisheries Institutes’ Global Seafood Market Conference, in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday.

China already has overtaken the US as the largest import destination for Vietnamese pangasius, noted Phan, who was part of a large panel discussion on value finfish.

China’s increasing role as a consumer of pangasius, as its middle class grows and buys more protein, would help to explain why the US saw a reduction in its imports last year.

The US accounted for 263,000 metric tons of Vietnamese pangasius imports during the first 10 months of 2017 and looks to finish way below the 384,000t of pangasius imported in 2016, based on data presented at the conference. 

The US will take just 21% of the combined 1.2 million metric tons of pangasius exported by Vietnam in 2017, compared to 33% in 2016, according to the presentation.

The trend is likely just beginning.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), in September 2017, began wielding its new food safety authority over pangasius and other siluriformes, the genus that also includes domestic catfish. 

Previously the role was maintained by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is charged with overseeing the safety of all over seafood in the US, but legislation passed in 2008 and a subsequent political fight resulted in FSIS taking control. 

The change already has resulted in some trouble for the Vietnamese export. In December, FSIS blocked a container containing 39,000 lbs of frozen ”smoked swai fillets” from Vietnam. 

FSIS officials confirmed to Undercurrent News that they stopped the fish at the port of Los Angeles, California, because it was prepared with the use of tasteless smoke, an industry term for a mixture of chemicals and gasses that include carbon monoxide and are used to preserve a meat’s color, texture and taste, a process that has not been approved by the FDA as generally recognized as safe for use on pangasius, though it has been deemed safe for use on tuna, beef and pork. 

Additionally, FSIS started in September to insist on a new labeling requirement, consistent with those for meat, informing consumers that pangasius may contain up to 5% of added water.

Phan said his company, which produces as much as 40,000t of pangasius per year, is in constant dialogue with FSIS and hopes to work through the multiple issues.

Keywords: pangasius Vinh Hoan Vietnamese pangasius