WASHINGTON - Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) released a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, that identified huge gaps in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) seafood-safety program. According to GAO:
- FDA exempted huge segments of the seafood industry from regulation. Most processing that occurs on board a ship is not covered. Warehouses and some processors — representing about 30% of the total industry — are exempted. And only 1 to 3% of imported seafood is being checked at the border.
- There are numerous seafood hazards not being adequately covered under the HACCP (or “hazard control”) plans. For example, FDA does not inspect for well-known seafood hazards, like methylmercury in large ocean-dwelling fish. In addition, over 50% of the seafood industry did not have adequate HACCP plans in place.
- FDA doesn’t require seafood plants to register with the agency, so they don’t know where to send their inspectors. The FDA identifies seafood firms to inspect by checking the Yellow Pages, newspaper and magazines, trade periodicals, and consumer complaints.
- FDA is inspecting seafood processors only once every one or two years, and when they find violations, it takes FDA months to inform the processors.
- FDA failed to use microbial testing to evaluate the effectiveness of its HACCP program and to improve processing in individual plants.
“Seafood can be contaminated with deadly bacteria, natural toxins and industrial chemicals, any of which can sicken consumers,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “Our research has documented over the last 10 years, seafood has been linked to roughly a quarter of all food poisoning outbreaks, where the food source is known. The GAO report confirms that FDA’s seafood program is riddled with deficiencies, woefully underfunded, and provides no assurance of safety for consumers.”