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The FDA should do more to ensure the safety of seafood imports, according to a congressional report. (Photo: Stock File/FIS)

FDA criticized for inadequate handling of seafood imports

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 23:30 (GMT + 9)

A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not doing enough to ensure the safety of farmed seafood imports and to give recommendations on how to remedy the matter.

About half of the seafood imported into the country comes from fish farms, the report explained, and FDA does not do enough, especially as compared with the European Union (EU), to make sure the seafood is free of banned antibiotic residues which pose dangers to human health. 

“These inspections involve FDA inspectors reviewing records to ensure the processors and importers considered significant hazards, including those resulting from drug residues if the seafood they receive comes from fish farms,” the report reads. “The inspectors generally do not visit the farms to evaluate drug use or the capabilities, competence and quality control of laboratories that analyse the seafood.”

Also, even though FDA has run assessments in five countries to gather data about their aquaculture sector, the agency is limited by the lack of procedures, criteria and standards, the report continued. Further, FDA's sampling programme does not generally test for drugs approved for use in aquaculture.

Conversely, the EU appraises foreign countries’ government structures, food safety legislation and aquaculture inspection programme and visits farms to verify that they abide by safety systems equivalent to that of the EU.  

Drugs Approved for Aquaculture by Selected Countries and the EU That Have a Maximum Residue Limit

The report also accuses FDA's sampling programme of being “ineffectively implemented.” 

“For example, for fiscal years 2006 through 2009, FDA missed its assignment plan goal for collecting import samples by about 30 per cent. In addition, in fiscal year 2009, FDA tested about 0.1 per cent of all imported seafood products for drug residues,” the report says. 

Furthermore, the agency depends on seven of its 13 laboratories to conduct all its aquaculture drug residue testing, which the report says makes questionable the agency's use of resources. 

“GAO recommends that FDA should study the feasibility of adopting practices used by other entities to better ensure the safety of imported seafood, enhance its import sampling programme and develop a strategic approach for improving collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and better leveraging resources,” the report says.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responded to GAO by saying that the FDA has boosted the number of inspections it does of foreign seafood producers and assesses the efficiency of other countries’ seafood farming policies, reports National Public Radio.

Related articles:

- FDA reveals two new regulations to enforce food safety 
- Where is your fish oil coming from? 

By Natalia Real


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