Tarpon Springs, Fla.— The final Senate version of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a major step towards improving the Food and Drug Administration practices with respect to imported seafood. The legislation includes many reforms similar to the Imported Seafood Safety Act, a bill originally introduced by Senator David Vitter, and reflects the input of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. The Alliance has worked with Congress for the past three years on a set of imported food safety reforms and several of those concepts were included in the final bill.
“Senator Vitter negotiated key provisions in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that will protect consumers and help level the playing field for U.S. shrimpers,” stated John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.
Provisions in the legislation provide a new level of federal-state partnership to allow state and local officials to act as an arm of the federal government to increase inspection and enforce safe seafood standards. Other concepts advocated by the Southern Shrimp Alliance that were included in the final bill include requirements for foreign food safety equivalence, foreign facility testing, and increased penalties for violations.
The FDA tests less than 2 percent of all imported seafood. Yet according to the FDA, significant percentages of shrimp exported to the United States tested positive for unapproved antibiotics and pesticides in 2009, including major suppliers such as China (30.1% refusal rate), Malaysia (20.0%), India (17.1%), Vietnam (10.4%), Bangladesh (4.0%) and Ecuador (2.4%).
The Southern Shrimp Alliance remains convinced that the most cost effective means to protect U.S. consumers from the human health threats of contaminated shrimp imports is through a far more aggressive and better funded import testing regime at the border. The level of FDA testing enforcement must be set high enough that the consequences of importing contaminated shrimp become a greater cost of doing business than importers can sustain. Only then will importers demand that their shrimp suppliers stop using illegal antibiotics and pesticides on their farms.
With FDA’s poor testing record, bad actors have a significant chance of beating the system by “port shopping,” where refused product re-enters the United States through another port. The provisions added by Senator Vitter address this problem by requiring all refused product to be clearly labeled and instituting new notification procedures.
The Southern Shrimp Alliance strongly supported an amendment introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu to the legislation that would have required the FDA to increase its testing of imported shrimp from less than 2 percent to 20 percent by 2015, impose tough new registration and enforcement requirements and penalties for violations, and tighten restrictions on the importation of any food produced with child or forced labor. The amendment was excluded from the final bill.
“There is still much work to be done to crack down on schemes to avoid U.S. food safety and trade laws and improve testing of imported seafood,” explained Williams. “The U.S. shrimp industry is thankful for leaders like Senator Vitter and Senator Landrieu who continue to address FDA’s shortcomings at every opportunity.”
SSA is an alliance of the U.S. warmwater wild shrimp fishery from eight states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. For more information on the SSA, please visit shrimpalliance.com or follow @ShrimpAlliance on Twitter.