Last September, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) stressing the importance of safeguarding consumer health in negotiations for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement. Rep. DeLauro explained that food safety concerns were of particular importance “as certain TPP countries have major seafood export industries with whom significant food safety issues have already arisen.” In particular, the letter observed that transshipment of tainted Chinese shrimp through Malaysia and the continuing presence of banned antibiotics in Vietnamese seafood imports meant that “the foreseeable increase in seafood imports under a TPP FTA will lead to more unsafe imports reaching American consumers.”

As negotiations regarding the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership continued in Melbourne this week, the Southern Shrimp Alliance today sent a letter to the USTR reiterating the concerns outlined in Rep. DeLauro’s correspondence, noting that food safety problems with Malaysian and Vietnamese seafood imports have substantially worsened over the last year.

SSA reports that since 2008, three Malaysian shrimp exporters have been added to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Import Alert 16-129 because of the detection of nitrofurans in their shipments of shrimp and two other Malaysian shrimp exporters have been added to the FDA’s Import Alert 16-124 following the detection of chloramphenicol. In February, the FDA refused eleven shipments of shrimp from a single Malaysian exporter for the presence of banned antibiotics, including nitrofurans. These findings indicate that either Malaysia has failed to eliminate the use of harmful, dangerous, and banned antibiotics in the country’s aquaculture or the country continues to be a vehicle for the evasion of the FDA’s increased oversight of Chinese shrimp imports. Either explanation threatens the integrity of the FDA’s regulation of imported seafood from Malaysia.

Further, the condition of Vietnamese seafood exports has continued to deteriorate. In the first two months of 2012, the Japanese government reports that 22 of the country’s 175 rejections of imported food (nearly 13%) were for Vietnamese shrimp contaminated with harmful antibiotics or herbicides. Nineteen of these rejections were for the detection of enrofloxacin, a banned fluoroquinolone. At the same time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency currently lists 32 Vietnamese seafood exporters on its Mandatory Inspection List because of the detection of fluoroquinolones. For their part, Vietnamese seafood exporters have candidly admitted to the contamination of farmed shrimp produced in their country, going so far as to ask the Vietnamese government to impose bans on the use of these antibiotics in shrimp feed.

As SSA notes in its letter, the presence of banned antibiotics and herbicides in shrimp imports reflects an intentional decision to use these harmful chemicals. Their presence is the product of a calculation to reduce the costs of producing aquacultured shrimp at the risk of the health and safety of American consumers. Because contamination with banned antibiotics is an intentional act, the problem could be easily solved should the USTR make it a top priority in ongoing TPP negotiations.

Read the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s March 7th Letter to the USTR here:

Read the full text of Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s September 7, 2011 Letter to the USTR here: