Another way the FDA tries to stem the flow of chemical-tainted seafood into the US is through inspecting processing facilities in exporting countries. But here, too, the program is lax. In China, from which we import massive amounts of farmed seafood, the FDA had inspected just 1.5 percent of seafood processing facilities over the previous six years, the GAO found.Lovera, whose group Food & Water Watch produced an eye-popping 2008 report called “Suspicious Shrimp: The Health Risks of Industrialized Shrimp Production,”told me that the FDA has done little to change its seafood-inspection system since the GAO report. “It’s a resource question but it’s also a political-will question, because when you look harder, you will find stuff,” she said. And that means friction with important trade partners like China. She said that given the scope of the problem, the FDA should visually inspect at least 10 percent of the seafood coming in at least for a while, which would send a message to exporting countries to clean up their acts.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence that the current system is failing. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a quarter of the food-borne illness outbreaks caused by imported food from 2005 to 2010 involved seafood—more than any other food commodity. In May, ABC Newsbought 30 samples of imported farmed shrimp from across the country and had them tested for antibiotic traces. The result: Three of the samples contained detectable levels of antibiotics. And not just any antibiotics, either.
Three different banned drugs were found in the shrimp: enrofloxacin, an antibiotic not allowed in animals that Americans eat because it damages the immune system; chloramphenicol, suspected to cause cancer in humans; and confirmed carcinogen nitrofuranzone, which was outlawed in the US 40 years ago.