GAO criticizes FDA seafood import safety program as ‘limited’

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Government accountability office

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the FDA’s program to oversee the safety of imported fish and seafood as ‘limited’, in a new report issued this week.

In its report, released under the title “Seafood Safety: FDA Needs to Improve Oversight of Imported Seafood and Better Leverage Limited Resources”​, the GAO says that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to strengthen its testing for unapproved drugs that may be used in some overseas fish farms for prevention of bacterial infections.

“FDA's oversight program to ensure the safety of imported seafood from residues of unapproved drugs is limited, especially as compared with the European Union (EU),”​ the report said. “…The inspectors generally do not visit the farms to evaluate drug use or the capabilities, competence, and quality control of laboratories that analyze the seafood.”

Referring to assessments carried out by the FDA to gather information about five foreign countries’ aquaculture safety programs, the GAO said: “These assessments have been limited by FDA's lack of procedures, criteria, and standards.”

The GAO said that about half of seafood imported into the United States each year comes from fish farms. According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, about $14.7bn worth of fish and seafood was imported into the US last year, up from $13.1bn worth in 2009.

In 2009, only about 0.1 percent of imports were assessed for drug residues, the GAO said.

Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) said that the report underlines his view that the government should be doing more to protect US consumers.

“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.

Meanwhile, Senator Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said that the report highlights a need for more FDA funding for food safety oversight – a cause that she claims should be a priority.

“This report makes clear to me that the FDA must improve their review of imported food so that we inspect and analyze a higher percentage of seafood and look for drug residues that present a risk to the health of American consumers,” ​DeLauro said. “We must ensure that the FDA has the additional resources needed to be successful at their mission in ensuring the safety of these products and the protection of the American public.”

The full GAO report is available online here​.

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