The U.S. Senate earlier this week approved a funding bill that an includes an amendment to increase the budget for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s imported seafood inspection program. H.R. 6147, the Interior, Environment, Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for 2019, passed by a 92-6 margin on Wednesday, 1 August.
Last week, the Senate added USD 3.1 million (EUR 2.7 million) for FDA inspections for the 2019 fiscal year, which starts on 1 October. That increase, approved by an 87-11 vote, represents a 26 percent rise in funding from this year.
U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) offered the amendment after meeting with shrimp industry representatives from his home state earlier this year. Inspections of seafood imports have been a point of concern for American seafood producers, who note that imports raised in foreign fish farms can be treated with antibiotics and other drugs not approved by the FDA.
“Shrimpers are proud to provide American families with healthy, wholesome, sustainably harvested seafood and we are grateful by our representatives’ insistence that everyone play by the same rules,” said John Williams, the executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, in a statement after the Senate added the amendment on 24 July. “The Senate’s action yesterday demonstrates that shrimpers’ voices are heard in Washington DC.”
The FDA is responsible for inspecting seafood imports at U.S. ports of entry and for conducting reviews at foreign processing facilities to ensure compliance to federal regulations. In 2016, the agency inspected 144 processing plants. That represents less than two percent of the facilities that produce seafood shipped to the United States.
According to a Government Accountability Office report, in 2015 more than one million seafood entry lines were sent to U.S. ports. Of those, FDA officials examined 22,253. Less than 4,000 were sampled, and only 1,065 – 0.1 percent – were tested for drugs.
According to the Southern Shrimp Alliance, FDA inspectors found seafood with banned substances in nearly 10 percent of what they tested.
“Louisiana produces the best seafood in the world,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Unfortunately, our commercial fishermen have to compete with foreign fishermen who are unfairly subsidized by their governments, face virtually no environmental regulations and pump their product full of drugs. Other countries know they can cheat because the U.S. can only inspect a fraction of what’s coming in. That’s about to change.”
An FDA spokesman told SeafoodSource the agency does not comment on proposed legislation.
The bill now heads to a conference committee, where House and Senate leaders will resolve differences between their versions in order to send the final bill to President Donald Trump.