Japanese and Canadian Governments: Vietnamese Farmed Seafood Imports Unsafe

The Southern Shrimp Alliance today released the results of the organization’s review of the actions taken by the governments of Japan and Canada to address the continued presence of harmful drug residues in Vietnamese seafood exports.

In a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Southern Shrimp Alliance reported that Vietnamese shrimp product exports contaminated with antibiotics and herbicides comprised over 8 percent of the incidents of imported food rejected by the Japanese government in 2011.  The Japanese government’s reports indicate that problems with Vietnamese shrimp imports have grown worse recently, with contaminated shrimp imports from Vietnam accounting for 47 of the 427 “cases” (11 percent) of violative food imports reported between September and December of 2011.  The vast majority of these cases involved the detection of enrofloxacin in the farmed shrimp, a fluoroquinolone not approved for use in aquaculture.  Similarly, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reports that six Vietnamese seafood exporters were placed on its Mandatory Inspection List (MIL) between October and December of 2011 for fluoroquinolone violations.

These data confirm Vietnamese-based press reports of increased enforcement efforts by the Japanese and Canadian governments to prevent Vietnamese seafood tainted with enrofloxacin from reaching their markets.  Press reports do not, however, provide any indication of heightened scrutiny by the FDA, nor have similar findings been reported by the FDA.

Disturbingly, one recent Vietnamese news article, cited in the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s letter to the FDA, quotes a Vietnamese government official within the General Seafood Department as erroneously stating that the United States allows enrofloxacin in imported seafood as an explanation for why the fluoroquinolone continues to be used in shrimp feed.  In fact, the FDA prohibits fluoroquinolones in seafood and has expressed grave concerns regarding the harmful effects of contaminated seafood on American consumers.  In 2007 testimony before the U.S. Senate, the current Deputy Commissioner for International Programs at the FDA, Dr. Murray M. Lumpkin, observed:

The use of unapproved antibiotics or chemicals in aquaculture raises significant public health concerns. There is clear scientific evidence that the use of antibiotics, and other drugs and chemicals, such as malachite green, nitrofurans, fluoroquinolones, and gentian violet, during the various stages of aquaculture can result in the presence of residues of the parent compound or its metabolites that are found in the edible portion of the aquacultured seafood and can be potentially harmful to human health. Also, the use in aquaculture of unapproved antibiotics may significantly increase antimicrobial resistance to those antibiotics in human pathogens of public health concern.

Fluoroquinolones have been prohibited from extra-label use in the U.S. and many other parts of the world in aquaculture because of public health concern about the development of such antimicrobial resistance.  . . .

[T]he use of fluoroquinolones in food animals may increase antibiotic resistance in human pathogens. Such resistance can compromise the effectiveness of the use of this critically important class of antibiotics in human medicine.

Dr. Lumpkin acknowledged that levels of drug residue found in farmed seafood imports may be low, but noted that “FDA is very concerned, however, about long term exposure as well as the possible development of antibiotic resistance.”

The continued detection of harmful antibiotics and herbicides in Vietnamese seafood exports, as well as the continued open and obvious use of these drugs in Vietnamese aquaculture belies public declarations by the FDA and the seafood importing community that these problems have been meaningfully addressed.  For example, in 2007, during a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives, the President of the National Fisheries Institute testified:

As an example of how industry and government can work together, in 2005, Vietnam had–the FDA had found out that Vietnam had a number of companies using fluoroquinolone, an unauthorized antibiotic. NFI travelled to Vietnam to encourage both the companies and government to take action. Subsequently, Vietnam banned that product, conducted a significant educational system out in their farm communities. They began 100 percent testing for fluoroquinolones and had swift and sure punishment for anyone misusing that product.

The results have been impressive. In 2006 and 2007, to date, there have been zero shrimp imports from Vietnam with testing positive for antibiotics. There have been zero basa or tra, a kind of Chinese–excuse me–Vietnamese catfish, testing positive for antibiotics. That is a good example of industry and government working together.

In fact, the evidence demonstrates that fluoroquinolone use has remained a staple of Vietnamese aquaculture.  The actions of the Japanese and Canadian governments – which cannot possibly be characterized as “protectionist” in nature – indicate that systemic problems with Vietnamese aquaculture remain and that seafood exports from Vietnam continue to fall short of basic of food safety minimum standards.  The important question now for all involved in the seafood industry and for the government agencies that regulate seafood is: What are we going to do to fix these problems?


Read the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s January 10th Letter to the FDA.


Review the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s October 5th Letter to the FDA.


Read the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for International Programs’ (Dr. Murray M. Lumpkin) full testimony to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation in 2007 here:


Read the President of the National Fisheries Institute full testimony to the Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 here:



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