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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 30, 2011

SCHUMER: GROWING GREENPORT INDUSTRY AT RISK AS U.S. INSPECTS ONLY 1% OF IMPORTED CHINESE FISH FOR CONTAMINANTS – SCHUMER CALLS ON THE FDA TO INSPECT MORE IMPORTED FISH


Schumer Tours “Local Ocean”, A Growing & Groundbreaking Saltwater Fish Farm Employing 50 Upstate NYers, And Announces Push For Legislation to Increase Inspections and Improve Labeling on Imported Fish

Schumer Calls on FDA To Increase Inspections Of Chinese Fish – Up To Half Of What Is Inspected Is Found To Be Contaminated With Dangerous Chemicals; Chinese Producers Use Dangerous Carcinogenic Chemicals Already Banned in US

Schumer: Contaminated Fish From China Shouldn’t Be Competing Side By Side With Cleaner, American- Raised Fish

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer toured Local Ocean Fishery in Greenport, and announced his push to crackdown on imported fish from China that contain chemicals that have been banned in food the United States. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only inspects about 1% of fish imported to the U.S. from China and other countries. In some tests on that small sample and in other state tests, up to 50% of the fish contain chemicals that are illegal for fish farming use in the United States, some of which can cause cancer and other diseases. Foreign producers pump their ponds full of chemicals to keep their fish alive, because they would not otherwise thrive in the polluted water. Following a tour of the fishery in Greenport that employs 50 New Yorkers, Schumer announced his push to get the FDA to expand their inspection of imported fish, and to have the federal government pressure other countries seeking to export fish to the U.S. to adopt more stringent standards for the use of chemicals in the fish hatchery process that could be harmful to consumers. Schumer also announced his support for legislation that would increase and improve imported seafood inspections, as well as the accuracy of labeling on imported fish.

 

“It has become abundantly clear that fish and seafood from China can stink, and it’s time the Food and Drug Administration stepped up their efforts to protect the public health,” Schumer said.  “Once again, China’s blatant disregard for basic safety standards has put Americans’ health at risk, all while contaminated fish from China are directly competing with American-raised fish from fisheries that play by the rules, just like Local Ocean. That is why I’m urging the FDA to immediately step up inspections of imported fish to increase safety and to take steps to make fish origin labels more accurate so consumers know where their food is coming from.”

 

Schumer is pushing the Food and Drug Administration to improve the inspection of imported fish from China and other countries, and to improve the accuracy of labeling imported fish. The Food and Drug Administration oversees the safety of seafood imports, and operates a mandatory safety program for all fish and fishery products. However, limited inspection programs contribute to the FDA physically inspecting about 1% of imported seafood shipments. Of that small sample that is inspected, up to 50% of the samples contain chemicals that are illegal for fish farmed in the U.S., only highlighting the prevalence of this issue. Potentially harmful chemicals including Malachite green, Choloramphenicol, Nitrofurans, all of which are banned from food in the U.S., have been founded in imported seafood according to the Today Show.Schumer points out that these fish imports are directly competing with fisheries like Local Ocean Fishery, that adhere to the United States’ strict food safety standards.

 

Local Ocean Fishery in Greenport utilizes a fully-contained, zero-discharge marine aquaculture system on a commercial scale, to produce the highest quality fish for its customers. Local Ocean plans to expand its operations, based on its mission to lead the way in land-based, environmentally-sustainable and economically viable aquaculture development. However, Local Ocean is negatively impacted by the limited inspection of Chinese imported fish, as this practice allows a higher quantity of imports into the U.S. market and increases competition.

China is the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States. Each year, about one in four Americans experiences a food borne illness, and seafood products cause approximately 20 percent of such outbreaks in the United States. Americans are consuming more seafood than ever, and to meet this growing demand, over 80% of it is imported. As wild fish supplies wane, almost half of the seafood produced around the world comes from industrial fish farms, like those in China.  These operations satisfy the surging demand for seafood by cramming together fish, which creates conditions for disease and parasites to spread. Many operators address their unsanitary conditions by using antibiotics and chemicals that can leave residues in the fish that people eat. While the FDA prohibits such antibiotics and chemicals in imported fish, only about 1% of fish entering the United States are actually inspected for such contaminants. Schumer is urging the FDA to increase the amount of inspections of such fish, as experts note that physical inspection gives the greatest assurance of detecting safety issues in seafood products.

Of the 1% of fish imports inspected by the FDA, up to 50% contain chemicals that are illegal for fish farming in the United States. Schumer pointed to some troubling examples from a 2003 to 2006 analysis of those imports prohibited from entering the U.S. For instance, seafood from China and other countries has been denied entry into the U.S. because of veterinary drug residues, including drug varieties like Malachite green, Choloramphenicol, Nitrofurans, which are toxic to humans and banned in the US.  In 2006, nearly 60 percent of those imports denied entry because of veterinary drug residues in 2006 were from China.

 

In addition, Schumer is supporting the Commercial Seafood Consumer Protection Act, which directs the Secretary of Commerce to strengthen federal activities for ensuring that commercially distributed seafood meets federal food quality and safety requirements. One important aspect of this legislation is that it directs the Secretary and other appropriate federal agencies to enter into agreements to strengthen interagency cooperation on seafood safety, labeling, and fraud, including regarding examining and testing seafood imports, inspections of foreign facilities, establishing a distribution chain tracking system, data sharing, and public outreach. The Act would also increase the number of seafood testing labs, allow the U.S. to refuse seafood imports that do not meet federal requirements and provide a system for developing a list of standardized seafood names. This legislation would prevent fraud related to the mislabeling of fish to pass it off as another species or from another source.

Schumer pointed out that fisheries in New York like Local Ocean Fishery in Greenport, do not use chemicals like antibiotics in the fish they produce. American fish producers farmers must comply with strict standards put forth by the FDA and produce higher quality products. Schumer is urging consumers to address the root of the issue by buying only wild-caught, or sustainably produced seafood instead of imported, industrially-farmed fish.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to FDA Administrator Dr. Margaret Hamburg appears below:

 

September 30, 2011

 

The Honorable Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.                        

Commissioner

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

5600 Fishers Lane

Rockville, Maryland 20857

 

Dear Commissioner Hamburg,

 

I write to express my concern about the quality and safety of imported Chinese fish that may contain high levels of toxic chemicals not approved for use on food or for human consumption.  I respectfully request that the FDA increase inspections, testing and analysis of all imported seafood, especially products originating from China. 

 

As the agency responsible for overseeing the safety of seafood imports, and operating a mandatory safety program for all fish and fishery products, it is imperative that you step up inspections of foreign seafood imports.  Right now, only about 1% of imported seafood shipments are physically inspected. Of that small sample that is inspected, approximately 50% contain chemicals that are illegal for fish farmed in the U.S. It is unconscionable that these products are being sold to unassuming customers and unconscionable that these fish imports are directly competing with domestic fisheries that adhere to the United States’ strict food safety standards. For this reason, I ask that FDA expand its inspection of imported seafood, and push our trading partners seeking to export seafood to the U.S. to adopt more stringent standards for the use of chemicals in the fish hatchery process that could be harmful to consumers.

 

China is the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States. Each year, about one in four Americans experiences a food borne illness, and seafood products cause approximately 20 percent of such outbreaks in the United States. Americans are consuming more seafood than ever, and to meet this growing demand, over 80% of it is imported and half of the seafood produced around the world comes from industrial fish farms, like those in China, some of which raise their fish in unsanitary conditions and use antibiotics and chemicals that can leave residues in the fish that people eat. While the FDA prohibits such antibiotics and chemicals in imported fish, we know that products containing contaminants reach our shores and are sold to American consumers. The possibility that tainted seafood is endangering the health of American consumers cannot and should not be ignored.  As such, I urge the FDA to act expeditiously with respect to testing of seafood imports, particularly those products originating from China.  I also respectfully urge FDA to improve country of origin labeling for fish at the retail point of sale.  Consumers should be able to make informed decisions about the source of the seafood they purchase and consume.

 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  I also ask that you please keep me apprised of developments on this issue. If you have any questions, please contact my Washington, DC office at 202-224-6542.

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