Web Date: June 29, 2007
FDA Will Detain Imports Of Farm-Raised Seafood From China
In an unusual move, the Food & Drug Administration announced it would block all shipments of farm-raised shrimp, catfish, eel, basa (similar to catfish), and dace (similar to carp) from China. On June 28, it said it will detain these products at the border until the importers prove with independent testing that the shipments are free of residues of drugs not approved in the U.S.
FDA testing that began in 2001 has shown a large fraction of farm-raised seafood from China contains residues of the antifungal agents malachite green, gentian violet, and nitrofurans, as well as fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics.
In the U.S., none of these antimicrobials is approved for use in farm-raised seafood, and fluoroquinolones are approved only for cattle. Extensive testing that FDA conducted between October 2006 and May 2007 showed that 25% of the imported Chinese seafood, or 22 of 89 samples, was contaminated with at least one of these agents.
"We're taking this strong step because of current and continuing evidence that certain Chinese aquaculture products imported into the U.S. contain illegal substances that are not permitted in seafood sold in the U.S.," said David W. K. Acheson, FDA's recently appointed assistant commissioner for food protection. "We will accept entries of these products from Chinese firms that demonstrate compliance with our requirements and safety standards."
The levels of antimicrobial residues found in seafood are low. They do not pose an immediate danger, Acheson said, and FDA is not recalling the products already on store shelves, nor is it asking consumers to remove the products from their freezers. But years of exposure to these agents could be harmful to people. The antifungal residues could pose a carcinogenic risk, and the fluoroquinolones could cause antibiotic resistance, he explained. "Studies done in lab animals show the antifungal agents cause cancer," he notes. Until now, only 5% of seafood imports from China have been inspected, he said.
The import controls will have a significant impact on the U.S. seafood market because shrimp and catfish are two of the most consumed species in the U.S., and China is the second largest supplier of shrimp to the U.S. market. Last year, the U.S. imported 150 million lb of shrimp and 12 million lb of catfish from China.
Following FDA's announcement, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent a letter to FDA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health & Human Services urging them to establish a comprehensive, legally binding Memorandum of Understanding in the area of food safety between the U.S. and China.
"Today's ban highlights that we need something better than a food safety system that operates on a case-by-case basis," DeLauro and Durbin wrote. "A Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and China would give us a legal agreement that would hold the Chinese government and their exporters accountable for sending contaminated products."
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