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GAO calls for stricter drug testing for US seafood imports

A US group also said the FDA isn't doing enough to address imported shrimp.

The US Government Accounting Office (GAO) is recommending the United States should require foreign governments to do more testing for certain drug residues left behind in seafood.

This was one of several recommendations the organization put forth in its report released last week to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Since 90 percent of US seafood is imported and about half is farm-raised, the GAO raised concerns over farmers who misuse antibiotics and other drugs and the residues that can be left behind harming consumers.

The report -- Imported Seafood Safety: FDA and USDA Could Strengthen Efforts to Prevent Unsafe Drug Residues -- recommends the following:

  1. FDA commissioner should pursue formal agreements with countries exporting seafood to the United States that these countries commit to testing for certain drugs and corresponding maximum residue levels.
  2. FSIS administrator should ensure agency staff perform on-site audits in other countries as well as include "a sample of farms whose catfish are exported to the United States."
  3. FSIS administrator should require countries exporting catfish to the United States include certain drugs and corresponding maximum residue levels in their residue monitoring plans
  4. FDA commissioner should coordinate and communicate with FSIS in developing drug residue testing methods and corresponding maximum residue levels for imported seafood that may also be applicable to imported catfish.

"FDA agreed with or partially agreed with two; FSIS partially agreed with two and stated it already addresses a third. GAO disagrees and believes the recommendations should be implemented," said the GAO.

While the GAO targets pangasius and catfish imports, another US group raised concerns over shrimp imports.

However, the Southern Shrimp Alliance said the report "indicates that the FDA has not changed its approach. Even with increased sampling of shrimp imports, the FDA sampled just 0.1 percent of all seafood entry lines for the presence of banned antibiotics in fiscal year 2015."

The SSA said the FDA relies on importers to ensure the safety and quality of seafood brought into the US market.

"The question the GAO is asking is important: if other countries say they are willing to do more to prevent their exporters from shipping shrimp contaminated with banned antibiotics to the US market, why aren't we taking them up on their offers?" said John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.

"Refusing to enter into bilateral agreements that foreign suppliers already are willing to commit to with other trading partners as a condition of access to their markets makes no sense and, worse, firmly establishes the United States as the dumping ground for contaminated shrimp produced around the world."

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