Environmental Science and Technology

A new study from John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that testing of imported seafood by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is inadequate for confirming safety or identifying health risks.

The findings, published in the November issue of Environmental Science and Technology, highlight deficiencies in inspection programs for imported seafood across four of the world’s largest importing bodies and show which types of seafood products, and from which countries, are most often failing inspections.

According to the study, only 2 percent of U.S. seafood imports is tested for contamination, while the European Union, Japan and Canada inspect as much as 50 percent, 18 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of certain seafood imports. When testing in the United States does occur, residues of drugs used in aquaculture are sometimes found.

Researchers also encountered a lack of transparency in testing protocol and policy. One example is that the FDA’s public records do not specify when fish pass inspection or whether testing was performed on random samples or targeted samples. Researchers also found that the FDA tests for 13 types of drug residues, in contrast to inspection agencies in Europe and Japan that test for 34 and 27 drugs, respectively.

Imports to the United States, European Union, Japan and Canada with the highest frequency of drug violations were shrimp, eel, crabs, catfish, pangasius, tilapia and salmon.

“Imported seafood may carry risks in terms of food safety because the FDA does not have the resources to proactively and regularly inspect foreign facilities, and it relies on product testing as a last resort,” said David Love, the study’s lead author. “To minimize the risks of seafood imports and to raise U.S. testing standards to match those of other countries, the authors recommend that the FDA budget be expanded to allow for more exhaustive testing and hiring of more inspectors.”

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