The group said the pending trade deal would increase imports including from major fish farming nations like Vietnam and Malaysia that have a ‘checkered’ safety record.
It added seafood imports have exceeded the FDA’s ability to ensure the fish that reaches supermarkets and restaurants is safe and more trade deals would further overtax inspectors and deliver more uninspected seafood to the food supply.
The potential trade agreement would also make it easier for foreign governments to challenge US food safety rules - including border inspection protocols and prohibitions against certain fish farming drugs and chemicals - as illegal trade barriers.
Percentage imported versus examined
The group examined a decade of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) import, inspection and rejection data from 2006 to 2015 and found that, while 94% of American seafood is imported, only 2% of imports are examined by safety inspectors.
The report found nearly 5.4 billion pounds of uninspected seafood entered the food supply last year.
“A large portion of the imported seafood is not caught by fishing fleets but is raised on large-scale fish farms. These factory farms on water raise hundreds of thousands of tightly packed carp, shrimp, tilapia, crab and catfish in one location in often unhygienic conditions,” it said.
“Fish farms often use drugs and chemicals that are banned in the US to ensure that their products survive to harvest. The overuse of some of these antibiotics contributes to the growing public health threat from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
Food & Water Watch said less than 1% of seafood imports are tested by the FDA at a lab for pathogens like Salmonella or Listeria or illegal veterinary drugs.
It added the FDA rejected 11% of inspected shipments for significant food safety problems.
The most common reasons were for pathogens like Salmonella and Listeria, filth and decomposition, insanitary processing and packaging, unsafe additives, illegal veterinary drugs and other food safety concerns.
Between 2006 and 2015, the FDA issued more than 60 recalls of imported fish that made it to supermarkets and restaurants for problems including botulism, Listeria and Salmonella, according to the report.
FDA focuses on imports it believes are the riskiest but it also performs a low number of inspections of foreign seafood processors and exporters.
Call for action
Food & Water Watch said the FDA needs to increase the volume and percentage of imported seafood inspected at the border and implement a statistically valid random sampling program to supplement its current risk-based inspection system.
It added Congress should provide the necessary funding and directives for the US to inspect at least 10% of seafood imports.
The FDA should also increase laboratory tests and the range of illegal veterinary drugs and chemicals it looks for.
Over the past decade, Malaysian seafood exports have been rejected three times more frequently than average and Vietnam’s twice as frequently.
The European Union (EU) inspects between 20 and 50% of seafood imports (based on product and Canada inspects between 2 and 15%.
“The FDA’s prohibition against using some veterinary drugs on fish farms, including fluoroquinolones (the class of antibiotics that includes Cipro) and clenbuterol, is vulnerable to a TPP challenge,” according to the report.
“The FDA standard is higher than the international standard, the underlying science is hotly disputed by the food animal industry, and the outright ban is far from the least trade-restrictive policy.
“If Vietnam brought a TPP challenge against the FDA ban on fluoroquinolones, it likely would prevail and the US could be forced to weaken or eliminate the ban.”