The Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) is set to urge Congress and the federal regulatory agencies to take immediate action against what it labels “the fraudulent marketing tactics of Vietnamese basa fish importers”.

Seymour Johnson, the Vietnamese Imports & Strategies Committee chair of CFA, explained that Vietnamese basa fish is being mislabelled as catfish, confusing consumers and restaurateurs alike.

“American consumers do not reasonably expect food products that are not in the same family or species to be labelled alike,” argued Johnson. “The import and sale of Vietnamese basa labelled as catfish in the US markets is one of the most blatant acts of food trade misconduct since imported kangaroo meat was substituted for ground beef in some products in the early 1980’s.”

In a press release, the CFA maintains that the difference between the two fish is the method by which they are raised and farmed. “Domestic catfish are raised in pristine and closely controlled environments […] In contrast, the Vietnamese basa fish are raised in the Mekong River, one of the most polluted watersheds in the world. Basa are often exposed to many unhealthful elements including raw sewage.”

“We do not object to the sale of correctly labelled Vietnamese basa fish,” stressed Johnson, “However, we do object to economic adulteration, species substitution and mislabelling that is now rampant on basa imports.”

The CFA has recently proposed that “catfish” should be an exclusive American labelling term, prohibited for use on imported fish, arguing: “The economic adulteration is costing the domestic industry millions in sales and hundreds of jobs in rural US areas plagued by poverty”.

Catfish is now the fifth most popular fish species in the US, and the CFA claims it has spent US$50m in marketing alone in order to develop that market base. In the release, the CFA argues that over recent years, the introduction of mislabelled imports has cost US fish farmers more than 20% of their frozen filet market.