Cochran: GAO report critical of FDA inspections

WASHINGTON — A critical Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the inspection of seafood imported into the United States gives credence to the argument that the federal government must do more to protect American consumers, according to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

The GAO released a report titled “Seafood Safety: FDA Needs to Improve Oversight of Imported Seafood and Better Leverage Limited Resources” that provides an unfavorable assessment of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) efforts to inspect imported seafood.

“The GAO has confirmed what many of us have maintained for some time:  that the existing federal program to inspect imported seafood is so limited that it is insufficient and ineffective,” Cochran said. “The need for better oversight of imported seafood is among the reasons why Congress wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to decisively move forward with new federal safety standards for foreign catfish imports.”

According to Cochran, the GAO report faults the FDA’s program for ensuring the safety of seafood imports against residues of drugs used by foreign aquaculture operations.

The GAO report notes that FDA inspectors rely on reviewing records and generally do not visit foreign aquaculture farms or laboratories to verify U.S. safety standards. The report cites the FDA’s limited sampling program and highlights that only seven of 13 FDA laboratories engage in seafood safety inspections. It states that the FDA tested about 0.1 percent of all imported seafood products for drug residues in FY2009.

Cochran sponsored a requirement in the 2008 Farm Bill that directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to inspect catfish and catfish products, as well as the conditions under which the fish are raised and transported. A proposed USDA rule issued in February did not resolve the definition of which catfish or related fish types to which the federal rule would apply.

A public comment period on a USDA proposed rule on the catfish issue is set to expire at midnight June 24. The FSIS will conduct a public meeting on the catfish rule in Washington, D.C., May 24, followed by a second meeting May 26, in Stoneville.

Source: Sen. Thad Cochran

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