The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a new imported seafood safety report after the USDA rejected 308 tons of tainted fish.
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran said he is heartened by the success of the catfish inspection program, which has led to greater assurances that untainted catfish is being served to American families.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the public health agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), assumed full responsibility for domestic and imported catfish oversight on March 1, 2016, as a result of Cochran-authored provisions in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills.
Following an 18-month transition period intended to provide foreign countries and domestic stakeholders time to prepare and comply with the final regulations, full enforcement began on Sept. 1.
One month into complete implementation, Cochran assessed the FSIS catfish inspection program, which replaced a weaker Food and Drug Administration (FDA) system.
“The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspection program is successfully identifying and refusing imported catfish containing drug residues and other banned impurities,” said Cochran. “The end result is that American consumers can know their catfish is safer to eat.”
From April 2016 to September 2017, the FSIS refused 88 shipments with a total of 615,253 pounds, or 308 tons, of catfish from six countries including Vietnam, China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Thailand.
Cochran said that the shipments were blocked for cargo containing chemicals or drugs banned for use in the United States or for failure to meet other basic FSIS food safety requirements.
Cochran’s assessment also came as the GAO released a report on Monday about how the FDA and USDA could strengthen their efforts to prevent unsafe drug residues. Cochran had initially requested the study be done in 2014.
According to the GAO report, the FDA in 2015 tested only 33 samples of the approximately 252 million pounds of catfish imported into the United States.
The report revealed that the frequency of FDA sampling and testing for unsafe drug residues from fiscal years 2012 through 2015 declined by 75 percent, even as the volume of catfish imports averaged about 250 million pounds annually during this period.
In comparison, the report stated,“According to FSIS re-inspection data, from May 1, 2016, through July 9, 2017, the agency (FSIS) collected and tested 382 samples from 195 shipments of imported catfish for unsafe drug residues.”
Cochran said that these actions exceed what FDA did over the past four years combined.
The report also affirmed that, beyond food safety, both “FDA and FSIS agreed – as FSIS assumed responsibility for domestic catfish oversight on March 1, 2016 – that there would be no duplication of the inspection and testing of catfish between the two agencies.”
As of Sept 1, 15 countries had applied for equivalency with USDA and are allowed to continue exporting to the United States unless they are deemed out of compliance.
In addition, 59 U.S. official import inspection establishments have been approved by the FSIS.