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Seafood Industry Faces Safety Concerns.

A new report compiled by the General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress' investigative arm, says fewer than half of U.S. seafood firms adhere to FDA safety standards. FDA has made progress in improving seafood safety since instituting strict new regulations in 1997, but large gaps remain, the report says. Over half of FDA inspections of domestic seafood processors found serious violations, yet the government did not move quickly to make those companies shape up, the investigators found.

As for imported seafood, even when FDA inspectors find serious problems at foreign seafood plants, the agency does not automatically stop and examine those companies' products once they arrive at U.S. ports, the report concluded. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who requested the investigation, plan hearings this spring to further probe FDA's oversight of seafood safety.

The seafood industry disputed many of the findings, saying companies are working hard to implement the FDA rules and ensure safer products. "There are indications that seafood is safer than ever," said Richard Gutting, president of the National Fisheries Institute, citing preliminary statistics suggesting seafood-associated disease outbreaks have dropped by half since FDA implemented its safety rules in 1997. "We remain committed to further improving the program."

In 1997, FDA issued the new HACCP seafood safety rules forcing every seafood plant to follow a customized plan to prove it took steps to prevent seafood contamination at every stop between the fishing boat and shipping out to consumers. FDA estimated that the program could prevent 60,000 of the estimated 114,000 food poisonings Americans suffer from bad seafood each year. But three years later, the GAO report found only 44 percent of seafood companies with HACCP plans met the minimal requirements, and questioned why FDA did not force more seafood handlers -- like hundreds of fishing vessels -- to follow the rules, too.

GAO investigators also found that over half of FDA seafood plant inspections identified serious violations but FDA delayed sending warning letters telling the companies how, and how quickly, to fix the problems. Less than one-third of seafood importers that FDA inspected could document they were following the rules. Yet, according to the GAO report, even when FDA cited serious problems at those plants, the agency was lax in stopping shipments at the U.S. border.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 19, 2001
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