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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

USDA worries about high number of imported seafood shipment rejections

A new USDA analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) import refusals report reveals that from 2005 to 2013 the FDA rejected nearly 18,000 imported seafood shipments because they were unfit for human consumption.

According to the FDA, these shipments were refused entry into the United States for containing unsafe levels of “filth,” veterinary drug residues and Salmonella, which is responsible for thousand hospitalizations per year and hundreds of deaths. “Filth” is a catchall term used to describe anything that shouldn’t be in food—like rat feces, parasites, illegal antibiotics and glass shards.

The USDA summarized their findings by saying: “The safety of imported seafood clearly continues to be of significant concern, based on the number of shipments refused by FDA.”

Currently, the majority of all food refusals are seafood products; while the FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of any food imported from foreign countries, they only have the manpower to inspect less than 1 per cent of the 1.2 billion pounds of shrimp entering into the country each year.

The American Shrimp Processors Association (ASPA), a group representing the US Gulf and Southeast Atlantic Coast shrimp fishing industry, has expressed great concern over the findings.

ASPA President Dr. David Veal pointed out: “This issue goes beyond the FDA; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect food suppliers to take some responsibility for the health and safety of their products. We hope shrimp exporters will take a more proactive role in assuring that suppliers adhere to laws designed to protect the people who buy their products.”

Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the United States, with the average person consuming more than four pounds of shrimp per year. Worryingly, 90 per cent, or 3.6 of those pounds, will be imports from countries like China, Indonesia and Thailand, who routinely distribute shrimp that the FDA ends up refusing.

According to the report, Indonesia and Thailand account for about a fifth of shrimp refusals, and they are also two of the largest exporters of shrimp to the United States.

Moreover, while the report contains information through 2013, in more recent years other countries like India have greatly increased the amount of shrimp they export; in 2015, 297 million pounds of Indian shrimp was turned away.

While information is unavailable on the total number of FDA seafood inspections performed yearly, it is safe to assume that with the extremely low rates of inspection, Americans are consuming imported shrimp that is fundamentally unfit for consumption.

Given the above, ASDA encourages Americans to purchase wild-caught domestic shrimp, which has demonstrably fewer bacterial and chemical contaminants, and is an important historic industry supporting millions of jobs in the country.