WASHINGTON — The catfish industry is pointing to a recent airing of NBC’s “Today Show” as more proof the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s inspection system for imported seafood is weak.
Many Americans are eating foreign catfish and other seafood tainted with chemicals that could cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems, according to an investigation aired Nov. 17.
In the investigation t(“Is your favorite seafood dangerous?”), NBC aired video showing “dirty sewage water used to raise seafood in Vietnam — the fish pumped with toxic antibiotics and banned drugs just to keep them alive, boosting production and driving down costs.”
NBC reported that although 80 percent of the fish consumed in America is raised overseas, the FDA inspects only two percent of all imports.
Ron Sparks, who heads the Alabama Department of Agriculture, told NBC that so few foreign shipments are inspected, “They’re not going to get caught. They’re sending tons of seafood to this country and if you catch a small percentage of it, why would they stop?”
Sparks said Alabama officials are so concerned over the lapses in FDA standards, that the state conducts its own inspections of imports. He said 40 to 50 percent of the imported seafood Alabama inspects tests positive for banned chemicals and other contamination not allowed under U.S. regulations.
The U.S. Congress approved legislation almost two and one-half years ago that would provide much greater protection for American consumers by shifting inspection and regulation of catfish from the FDA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has more stringent inspection and safety programs. The Obama administration has yet to enforce the new protections.
“The administration’s refusal to act is all the more shocking because of President Obama’s repeated claims that consumer safety is one of the highest priorities of his administration,” said Joey Lowery, president of the Catfish Farmers of America. “The U.S. catfish industry welcomes these tougher standards and protections which would apply to all catfish — domestic and foreign.”
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