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Study faults testing of imported seafood

Study faults testing of imported seafood

Seafood is getting increasing scrutiny these days, and it's not reassuring.

Researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that testing of imported seafood by the U S. Food and Drug Administration isn't good enough to say it's safe or to identify whether there are any health risks to consumers.  That's a big deal, because about 85 percent of seafood consumed in the United States comes from other countries.

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Based on a review of government data, David Love and others at the center found that the FDA only tests about 2 percent of all seafood imported into the US.  The European Union, by comparison checks 50 percent; Japan 18 percent and Canada 15 percent.

One reason to test: farmed fish and shellfish, a growing share of all seafood, may contain residues of veterinary drugs. Those drugs, given to prevent and treat diseases in the fish, could be harmful to humans at high enough concentrations, or they could cause other unintended consequences, such as antibiotic resistance.

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The study found that inspectors detected more drug residues in imported seafood the more they inspected. Drugs showed up more often in Asian farm-raised shrimp and prawns, catfish, crab, tilapia and Chilean salmon than in other seafood products,  according to researchers. Imports from Vietnam had the greatest number of veterinary drug violations among exporting countries, they noted.

The US and the other countries tested all have set limits on the acceptable levels of drug residues in seafood.  But the US, besides checking a smaller percentage of its seafood imports, also tests for fewer different drugs than the EU, Japan and Canada, researchers point out.

In the end, the researchers concluded that the amount of data publicly available from the FDA isn't sufficient to tell whether consumers face any health risks from eating imported seafood.  FDA records, for instance, don't show when fish pass inspection or whether the samples tested were chosen at random or targeted for some reason.

(2007 Baltimore Sun file photo)

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