Patrick Woodall or Erin Greenfield
Laboratory Error: Majority of Seafood Imports Not Tested for Food Safety, According to New Food & Water Watch Report
Washington, DC － As food safety problems continue to make headlines, American consumers are in for more disturbing news: that less than one in a million pounds of seafood imported into the United States are tested in laboratories for Salmonella, Listeria, chemical and drug residues, metals, and pesticides. Laboratory Error, a report released today by Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy organization, reveals that as the volume of imported seafood steadily increased between 2003 and 2006, the number of samples taken for laboratory testing by the Food and Drug Administration decreased by 25 percent.
“FDA is failing to adequately inspect seafood imports not just at ports, but also in laboratories used for detecting foodborne hazards invisible to the naked eye,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. ”The agency‚ appalling record on inspecting seafood imports poses a real threat to the health of American consumers.”
Laboratory Error is a follow-up to Food & Water Watch‚ 2007 report Import Alert, and delves deeper into the FDA inspection system. In the new report, Food & Water Watch examined FDA‚ laboratory testing of imported seafood for seven food safety laboratory tests (such as microbial contamination and botulism risk), the number of tests FDA performed and whether the imported fish failed these tests. The group‚ analysis revealed some troubling trends:
* Imported seafood shipments grew by 15 percent between 2003 and 2006, and the volume grew by 11 percent to 5.4 billion pounds. During this same period, the number of imported fish samples taken for laboratory analysis fell by 25 percent.
* The number of laboratory tests the FDA performed declined by 27 percent from 9,552 laboratory tests in 2003 to 6,995 tests in 2006.
* Between 2003 and 2006, about one in 11 (8.7 percent) of FDA laboratory tests on imported seafood turned up unacceptably high levels of disease, decomposition or adulteration.
* The FDA waited several years to issue a ban on fish from China in 2007 after finding very high failure rates for illegal veterinary drugs and chemicals on the imports for several years － including violations much higher than the FDA admitted in 2007.
FDA‚ limited field laboratory resources and staffing, coupled with increasing fish imports and an already inadequate inspection system at portside, have all contributed to decreased testing on potentially dangerous seafood. Unfortunately, one of the solutions proposed by FDA to monitor imports is using private laboratories hired by exporters to certify which exporters and products are safe.
“FDA‘s plan for third-party certification would essentially privatize food inspection, allowing corporate interests to trump the interests of American consumers,” said Hauter. “We need FDA to increase inspections and laboratory testing to ensure imported products are safe for consumers.”
Food & Water Watch also recommends that FDA allow seafood imports only from countries with food safety regulations that are at least as strong as U.S. standards, increase its laboratory testing rates for imported seafood to the levels conducted in the European Union and Japan, and conduct at least annual inspections of domestic food establishments and annual visits to countries that export seafood to the United States.
Read all recommendations and key findings from Laboratory Error.