Does the fish on your plate need a drug test? According to an April 14, 2011 report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, The Food and Drug Administration is not doing enough to ensure that the fish available to American consumers is uncontaminated by antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. They found that the FDA lacks “procedures, criteria and standards” to see that the fish being sent to U.S. markets are safe. The European Union, on the other hand, has a much tougher inspection and regulation system for seafood.
The Problem with U.S. Fish Inspection
Of all the fish consumed in the United States, 80 percent are imported. Half of imported fish comes from fish farms. China is the largest producer, providing a quarter of the fish imported into the U.S. every year. Thailand, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam and Ecuador also provide at least five percent each of U.S. imports. In the last six years, the FDA has inspected 1.5 percent of Chinese facilities exporting to the U.S. About .1 percent of fish are inspected on import. It is not, however, inspected for several drugs legal in China but banned in the U.S.
In other words, the vast majority of fish are uninspected. Their production is unsupervised. Consequently, fish containing residues of pharmaceuticals banned in the U.S. are almost certainly leaking through the holes in the system.
The Problem of Factory Fish
Factory fish farms have many of the same problems that factory beef feedlots have. Fish are crowded into pens. They are fed not their natural diet, but food that can be bought cheaply, soy for example. Waste builds up inside the pens or seeps into the surrounding environment. Fish become sick, infested or deformed. They die at rates that are unacceptable to the managers of the farm. The typical response is pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, vaccines and chemicals to kill parasites.
China, the United States’ largest source of imported fish, is producing the most dangerous fish. China has adopted a high-density model for breeding fish, ten times denser than many other countries. According to the China Times News Group, diseases are sweeping through these fish farms that can only be treated with heavy doses of antibiotics. According to Cai Shuanghu, an associate professor at Guangdong Key Laboratory of Pathogenic Biology and Epidemiology for Aquatic Economic Animals, antibiotics lose effectiveness in this environment in about two year. After that the bacteria become resistant and fish farmers must resort to more powerful antibiotics.
European Union Inspection
The European Union deals with the problem of factory fish farming by visiting the farms, inspecting them regularly. They only allow imports from countries whose food safety laws and inspection programs are consistent with the EU’s own laws. And they require that each fish sold to the EU be traceable. The European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers points out that spot checks of the end product does not insure quality.
While European fish are being carefully monitored from farm to plate, American fish are being grown out of sight by countries with a history of irresponsible pharmaceutical use in their factory fish farms.
What Can You Do?
First, know that if you are eating imported farmed seafood, you cannot be quite sure what you are eating. Vote with your pocketbook against farmed seafood as it is currently imported.
Second, contact the FDA. Let them know that you are watching the issue and ask them what they plan to do about it. Food and Water Watch can help you keep apprised of the issues and progress of various legislative attempts to address the issue.
Sources for Story:
GAO; Seafood Safety: FDA Needs to Improve Oversight of Imported Seafood and Better Leverage Limited Resources; April 14, 2011 http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-286
Food and Water Watch; Unsustainable Approach: Factory Fish Farming; June 2011 http://documents.foodandwaterwatch….
Food Democracy; Check the Label: 80% of US Fish Imported, Less than 1% Inspected, Most Loaded with Antibiotics etc.; November 6, 2007
Want China Times; Fish Farm Doping: China’s Latest Health Scare; May 14, 2011 http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-…
European Commission; EU Import Conditions for Seafood
and other fishery products http://ec.europa.eu/food/internatio…
Seafood Watch; Seafood Recommendations; http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/…
FDA; Contact CFSAN http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Centers…