This is not an opinion piece about the wisdom of imposing tariffs on goods imported from abroad. That is not because I have no opinion, rather it is beyond the remit of this column. Also I am not very well informed on global trade, and for some reason this is the issue where I decide I’m not going to play the fool.
This is about House Bill 335, introduced by Representative Jerry Gisclair (D-Larose) to enact La. R.S. 40:5.5.4, requiring restaurants to notify customers if crawfish or shrimp imported from outside the U.S. are being served. Basically if a restaurant has a menu and serves shrimp and/or crawfish from outside the U.S., the menu has to alert consumers (in the same font/typeface as the menu item) that foreign shrimp or seafood are skulking around in the dish looking shifty. If a restaurant doesn’t use a menu, they have to:
… display on a sign posted at the main entrance to the establishment that certain crawfish or shrimp, as applicable, being served within originate from a foreign country. Each sign shall be at least eighteen inches tall and eighteen inches wide and shall be written in the English language in letters not less than one inch in size. The sign shall be placed in an open area and in a conspicuous position not less than thirty-six inches from the floor so that it is visible to all patrons.
The ostensible purpose of this bill is to protect the health and safety of citizens; in the preamble the Legislature “recognizes that serious risks to public health may be posed by antibiotics, radiation, and numerous toxins found in seafood products, including but not limited to crawfish and shrimp that originate outside the State.” Clearly our citizenry must be protected from this foreign perfidy.
I do not know whether imported shrimp and/or crawfish are in fact contaminated by radiation, toxins and/or antibiotics. I have not read of irradiated crawfish or toxic shrimp making people ill, but I hope that if those allegations are true our legislators would do more warn us of their provenance.
I suspect the true reason for this bill is because imported crawfish and shrimp are less expensive than our native products and since most people can’t tell the difference a lot of chain restaurants pick the imports. Our local industry can’t compete on price and restaurants that don’t really care about quality will always pick the cheaper product if they can get away with it.
I am generally a “free-market” sort of fellow, but in this instance I’m with Mr. Gisclair of Larose. The notice to be added to menus (or posted as a sign) doesn’t include hyperbole about irradiated mutant shrimp hopped up on erythromycin, it merely alerts consumers to the country of origin of the product they’re consuming. That’s particularly relevant where crawfish and shrimp are concerned, as a lot of our indigenous cuisine involves those two crustaceans.
I’m also in favor because our local crawfish and shrimp are superior in quality to the vast majority of the imported stuff and while I know I just said a minute ago that most people can’t tell the difference, a lot of us can. If more people had regular access to the good stuff perhaps they’d come to appreciate it after all.
I buy frozen crawfish tails about once or twice a year. I’d buy them more often, but my wife and I are the only ones who really like them and they’re expensive. I could buy the Chinese imports, of course, which are about 2/3 of the price of Louisiana bugs, but I just can’t do it. At the end of the day this is one product for which I’m willing to spend a little more.