FDA lifts fresh swordfish mercury import alert

Published on
April 27, 2015

U.S. swordfish importers will be able to ship significantly more fresh fish into country after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cancelled an import alert on swordfish for methylmercury, according to consulting firm FDAImports.

An FDA official confirmed to FDAImports that it cancelled Import Alert 16-08, "Detention Without Physical Examination (Automatic Detention) of Swordfish For Methyl Mercury" in early April. The alert, in place since 2009, gave FDA’s field import personnel the authority to automatically detain all imported shipments of swordfish and processed swordfish products from any foreign country unless they were from shippers on the FDA Green List.

“This will bring back the fresh swordfish market in the U.S.,” Benjamin England, founder and CEO of Glen Burnie, Md.-base FDAImports, told SeafoodSource. “It was not uncommon for the FDA to take too long – such as two weeks – to review the lab reports and, by then, the fish was spoiled.”

While the FDA has not released a public statement on cancellation of the Import Alert — and has not yet replied to inquiries from SeafoodSource — FDAImports’ executives said it has been discontinued. “We know that, in FDA’s electronic screening system for import shipments, it is not screening that Import Alert as if it were in effect,” said England, a former FDA official.

Still, England cautioned swordfish importers that, while the fish may not be subject to automatic detention, the agency will still conduct random sampling of swordfish shipments. U.S. swordfish imports totaled 9.47 million kilograms (20.8 million pounds) of swordfish in 2014, up 17 percent from 2013.

In addition, there is confusion among FDA district offices about how the agency’s import inspectors and compliance officers should be handling swordfish imports, according to England. “FDA has been releasing some imported swordfish shipments that originate from suppliers that were never on FDA’s Green List. In other cases, FDA has examined and visually inspected, but not sampled or detained, swordfish entries,” England said.

UPDATE: "FDA removed the import alert after determining that there have been very few recent instances in which the agency detained swordfish shipments as a result of the import alert," the agency replied on 30 April. "FDA has found that mercury levels in almost all imported swordfish have been at levels that the agency considers safe. FDA therefore no longer believed that the import alert served a public health benefit."

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