Persistent Food Safety Problems with Seafood Exported from Vietnam Undermines the FDA’s Oversight of Imported Food Products

The Southern Shrimp Alliance today sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration alerting the agency to continued incidents of intentional adulteration of shrimp products produced for export in Vietnam.

Per the agency’s own accounting, FDA has attempted to address persistent deficiencies in the safety and wholesomeness of Vietnamese seafood exported to the United States since 2005. Nevertheless, despite these efforts, reports of the intentional adulteration of shrimp and other seafood products produced for export in Vietnam continue to be widespread.

Most recently, Vietnamese press reports have alleged that Vietnamese seafood producers are “inject[ing] substances” into shrimp to increase volume. These recent reports confirm the failure to eliminate fraudulent weight-gaining practices – such as soaking shrimp in sugar water or injecting shrimp with agar (a gelling agent sometimes used as a laxative) – within the industry. Separately, the Japanese government has recently taken aggressive action to address findings of Trifluralin (a toxic herbicide) in shrimp exported from Vietnam to Japan.

Vietnam accounts for less than six percent (6%) of the total volume and value of edible seafood imported into the United States. Yet, through September of this year, seafood exported from Vietnam has accounted for twelve (12%) of the entry lines of seafood products refused entry into the U.S. market by FDA. Further, FDA’s sampling of Vietnamese shrimp imports in 2009 found contamination from harmful antibiotics in ten percent (10%) of the samples tested. Moreover, one Vietnamese shrimp exporter, INCOMFISH, has been listed on FDA’s Import Alert 16-124 since September of 2009 for the presence of a banned antibiotic in its shrimp exports to the U.S. In January of this year, FDA reported refusing entry to multiple shrimp products exported by INCOMFISH for the presence of banned veterinary drug residues. Nevertheless, despite repeated findings of contamination, ship manifest data indicates that INCOMFISH has exported over 300,000 pounds of shrimp to the U.S. since June of 2011.

Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, including shrimp, has been subjected to rigorous testing to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of these products before they reach American consumers. The domestic seafood industry has welcomed this scrutiny. However, domestic industries continue to compete in the U.S. market with imported seafood products that do not comply with our food safety laws and, in direct result, are available for sale at substantially lower prices. The failure to curb fraudulent and illicit practices in the production of seafood exported to the United States not only forces our industry to compete on unfair terms, but also poses serious risks to American consumers. In the face of these challenges, FDA must take aggressive action to ensure the safety of seafood products sold in the U.S. market.

Read a full copy of the 10-5-11 letter to FDA regarding Vietnamese seafood imports.

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