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Suppliers to USA market well advised to get with seafood inspection program.

There's a new fish and seafood inspection system under way at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and foreign governments and processors are being strongly urged to cooperate.

Thomas J. Billy, director of the FDA's Office of Seafood, which didn't even exist until last July, recently outlined the program to interested industry members. It's "voluntary," of course, but the industry is expected to participate.

A $9.5 million increase in the FDA budget is being used to expand and enhance an existing seafood inspection program based primarily on organoleptic properties, and to implement a new fee-for-service program based on the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) concept in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The idea of HACCP is for "harvesters, manufacturers, importers and retailers to identify critical points in their operations where a failure would result in unacceptable public health, food hygiene or economic hazard. They then apply controls at those critical points and monitor continuously to prevent hazards from developing." It's worked well for 20 years in the low-acid canned food industry, Billy said.

Billy's office and the programs associated with it grew out of public hearings by Congress on regulation of fish and seafood, and the effort was also spurred by a study on seafood safety published a year ago by the National Academy of Sciences. Most of the illnesses related to fish and seafood are from eating raw shellfish, the study found -- but the Academy had 70 recommendations for improving safety across the board, including the HACCP procedure.

FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler established the Office of Seafood, the first product-specific division in the agency, in February to coordinate all the FDA's regular seafood activities as well as the HACCP program. The new office has two divisions: Research and Programs. The first has two branches, dealing with biological and chemical hazards; and the other three branches, on enforcement, policy guidance and shellfish sanitation. The office published a 1991-92 Seafood Plan covering five areas of activity: water, domestic industry (including exports), imports, retail and consumption.

Because 85% of the problems are caused by raw shellfish, and most of those apparently by "bootlegged" shellfish from condemned waters, a major focus has been undercover sting operations against bootleggers. The agency is also publishing "levels of concern" for known contaminants like nickel, cadmium, chromium, lead and arsenic, and compiling a list of potential regional contaminants in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as NOAA.

"We have begun conducting inspection of all domestic processors in the United States in order to get a better view of the industry," Billy said. "If problems are encountered, then the agency is taking whatever action is necessary to correct them." The agency is also "significantly increasing the number of wharf exams of imports and doubling the number of samples taken for analysis," he added. FDA headquarters and district offices are being linked by computer with the U.S. Customs Service, "in order to have a better handle on all entries."

More bilateral agreements with foreign countries are being negotiated, "in order to save our resources and to expedite the entry of products." Economic adulteration (as in overglazing of shrimp and lobster tails) is a no-no as well as contamination or species substitution, Billy said. Foreign governments are being asked to "guarantee an inspection program equivalent to the new HACCP program in the U.S. for those plants wishing to participate," or else to let the U.S. work directly with foreign plants.

China Urges Protection Of Off-Shore Fisheries

Calamities in China caused losses in aquatic product output over the summer, according to local press reports. Strong winds and heavy rains destroyed clams worth $5 million in farms near Qinzhou City in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. And many shrimp died in coastal waters off Leting county in Hebei province after a large oil slick was found drifting into grow-out ponds.

In a move to avoid a repeat of those episodes, the State Oceanic Administration has urged local governments to take measure to protect fishery resources in offshore areas including shrimp farms.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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