Are U.S. Seafood Inspections Keeping Consumers Safe?

Up to 90 percent of all seafood in the U.S. is imported and yet some estimates show that only 1 to 2 percent of it is being inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), reports Deborah Zabarenko, in “With Imported Seafood Flooding US, Are Inspections Enough?,” published today on

“Last year, seafood imports hit nearly $19 billion, up from $10.5 billion in 2000, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Fisheries Service,” Zabarenko writes. “In comparison, Americans eat about $2 billion of fish harvested in the U.S., and send nearly $6 billion overseas.”

An analysis of FDA inspection data by the Investigative News Network/Investigative Reporters & Editors found that from 2002 through 2012, 4,171 shipments of shrimp, 3,053 shipments of tuna, 1,509 shipments of “other” fish and 1,483 shipments of crab were turned away. Indonesia and Vietnam had the top two spots, respectively, for the number of shipments turned away for reasons that included: nutritional mislabeling, filth and decomposition, pesticide residues, salmonella and E.Coli.

“Yet the rejection rates were also quite low, amounting to just 0.33 percent of all seafood inspected in 2012,” writes Zabarenko. “Which leads to two possibilities: either the inspectors are missing tainted fish or the complex web of import requirements is working.”

The story looks at the different roles FDA, U.S. Customs Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration play in government regulation of imported seafood, from issuing tariffs, to conducting paid voluntary inspections to insure the safety of an importer’s seafood, and to assessing foreign countries’ regulation of aquaculture facilities.

However the system in place now is not flawless, says David Plunkett, senior staff attorney for food safety at the consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, who calls the border inspection system inadequate. He argues that the current system can miss mislabeled or adulterated fish.

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