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The safety of Chinese seafood imports

Jean M. Halloran
Director, Food Policy Initiatives, Consumers Union
Testimony, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
Chinese Seafood Imports: Safety and Trade Issues
April 24, 2008

Thank you for inviting me to testify here today. My name is Jean Halloran, and I am Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. Consumer Reports has approximately 4 million subscribers, and we have another 3 million paid subscribers to our website. We are non-profit and independent, and take no funding from business or industry.
The safety of seafood is an extremely important issue for consumers, and import safety is paramount. Fish consumption is growing, and it is estimated that 83 percent of the seafood we eat is imported. Of that, 21 percent comes from China, and much of the rest from other developing countries in Asia and Latin America. By comparison, of all the food we consume, only 13 percent is imported.
We have considerable evidence that seafood imports from China pose significant safety risks. In June, 2007, the FDA put five types of farmed-raised fish and seafood from China under a “detain and test” order, due to repeated findings that the fish contained chemicals banned from seafood in the United States. .We commend FDA for that action, but believe it has only begun to address the problem.
FDA is actually very limited in what it can do to insure the safety of imports from China or anywhere else. Today, it inspects less than one percent of food imports entering the country. There are over 300 ports (many landlocked) where food can enter. At the peak of its funding, there were FDA inspectors stationed at only 90 of them, and the number of inspectors has dropped since then. This has led to a phenomenon known as “port shopping.” Indeed, if a shipment of seafood from China is rejected by FDA inspectors at one port because it has begun to decompose, there is nothing at all to prevent the importer from trying another port where FDA simply may not be present.
For the full testimony, click here (PDF format).