Tarpon Springs, Fla.— The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act currently before the U.S. Senate would be enhanced greatly by Senator Mary Landrieu’s amendment to curb imports of shrimp contaminated with harmful antibiotics and pesticides. The Southern Shrimp Alliance worked closely with Senator Landrieu to develop the legislation that would put the U.S. seafood safety testing program on par with every other major market for shrimp, including the European Union, Japan and Canada.
The Food and Drug Administration currently tests less than 2 percent of seafood imported to the United States despite repeated findings by both federal and state officials of contaminated farm-raised shrimp imports. The U.S. is a large target for illegal actors because of its poor food safety testing and comparatively forgiving penalties for violations. For example, Japan requires testing of all Vietnamese shrimp for fungicides and the European Union has increased testing of Indian and Bangladeshi shrimp based on repeated findings of banned antibiotics. The FDA lacks equivalent increased scrutiny of imports from these countries, despite similar findings of contamination.
If enacted, the legislation would require 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.
“U.S. shrimp fishermen are grateful for Senator Landrieu’s bold leadership on the issue of contaminated seafood imports,” stated John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “We have documented repeatedly that unscrupulous companies use the same circumvention schemes–such as transshipment and mislabeling–to avoid both U.S. food safety laws and fair trade laws.”
Illegal transshipment schemes that avoid U.S. food safety and trade laws are so widespread in Malaysia and other countries that they are openly advertised. The increasing volume of potentially harmful products transshipped through Malaysia is staggering and the subject of the Alliance’s November 22, 2010 comments to the United States Trade Representative concerning Malaysia’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
For example, Chinese shrimp were subjected to antidumping duties in 2005. Then, in 2007, the FDA subjected Chinese shrimp and four other farm-raised seafood products to an Import Alert based on findings of potentially harmful, banned antibiotics and/or fungicides in 25% of imports sampled for testing by the FDA between October 1, 2006 and May 31, 2007.
As a result of U.S. government actions, the volume of frozen shrimp imported from China plummeted. Meanwhile, China’s shipments of shrimp to Malaysia exploded from an annual average of 2.3 million pounds to 66 million pounds by 2008. Likewise, imports to the United States of frozen shrimp “from Malaysia” skyrocketed from an annual average of 1.9 million pounds to 66.2 million pounds in 2008. When Customs tested Malaysian shrimp suspected of being transshipped, the agency found it to be contaminated with banned antibiotics.
The problem of transshipment is not limited to Malaysia or shrimp products. Circumvention intended to conceal the true origins of food products has led to cooperation amongst various domestic food producers regarding issues of common concern. The Southern Shrimp Alliance is a member of Coalition for Enforcement of Antidumping and Countervailing Duties, which also works to address transshipment.
Senator Landrieu’s amendment faces stiff opposition from a large and well-funded lobby of seafood importers and national food organizations representing retail users of imported seafood.
“Bad actors engaging in transshipment are putting U.S. consumers at risk and destroying the family-run shrimping businesses that support hundreds of coastal communities in eight states,” explained Williams. “The Southern Shrimp Alliance is committed to ending circumvention of U.S. food safety and trade laws.”
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.