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Fishy imports: More oversight needed for seafood safety

Consumer Reports News: May 24, 2011 10:34 AM

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a report recommending improvements to government oversight of imported fish.

Some 80 percent of the fish and seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. About half of that is farmed fish, which may contain disease-causing bacteria, residues of antibiotics and other drugs and chemicals. A number of these chemicals pose cancer and other health risks.

The FDA is responsible for ensuring that seafood is safe to eat and does not contain traces of these dangerous drugs. But FDA seldom inspects foreign fish processors: in 2010 it inspected only 5 of the 801 fish processing facilities in Vietnam that export to the US. FDA likewise only inspects 0.1 percent of the fish coming in at the border. The FDA’s sampling program may also miss certain drugs and chemicals not approved for use in aquaculture in the U.S. because it doesn’t know to test for them.

The European Union conducts much more stringent reviews: analyzing foreign government structures, food safety legislation, fish farm inspection programs and conducting site visits of the farms to ensure that the imported fish is being processed with seafood safety programs equivalent to the EU’s.

The FDA should really step up to the plate in China, for example, which provides some 25 percent of the fish imported into the US. Only 1.5 percent of Chinese seafood processing plants have been inspected there in the last 6 years.

Desiree Ferenczi

   

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