Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The U.S. GAO Recommends Changes to FDA’s Handling of Imported Seafood

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has concluded in Report GAO-11-286 that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) must improve its oversight of imported seafood. The GAO study was conducted at the request of several members of Congress because of concerns that the FDA was not doing enough to ensure the safety of imported seafood against residues of unapproved drugs used by foreign seafood farmers.

Farmed fish (aquaculture) account for about half of the seafood imported into the U.S. Fish grown in confined aquacultured areas can have bacterial infections, which may require foreign farmers to treat the fish with antibiotics not approved by the U.S. The concern is that the residues of some drugs in the imported seafood can cause cancer and antibiotic resistance when eaten by U.S. consumers. Specifically, the GAO was tasked with assessing whether (1) the FDA’s current program could prevent imports of seafood containing residues from unapproved drugs and (2) whether the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the FDA and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) intended to enhance seafood oversight and leverage inspection resources was functioning.

The GAO concluded that the FDA did not provide enough oversight of imported seafood and that the agency was unable to ensure that seafood did not contain harmful residue from antibiotics and other drugs. The GAO also concluded that the FDA and NMFS did not implement any guidance for staff or create standard operating procedures, as required under the MOU between the agencies. Finally, the GAO concluded that the agencies did not conduct enough inspections of foreign seafood suppliers.

Based on the findings of the GAO, it recommended that the Secretary of the Health and Human Services direct the FDA to:

1. Study the feasibility of adopting other practices used by other entities, such as requiring foreign countries that want to export seafood to the United States to develop a national residues monitoring plan to control the use of aquaculture drugs;

2. Develop a more comprehensive import sampling program for seafood by more effectively using its laboratory resources and taking into account the imported seafood sampling programs of other entities and countries; and

3. Develop a strategic approach with specific time frames for enhancing collaborative efforts with NMFS and better leveraging NMFS inspection resources.

Importers of seafood should monitor closely the progress of these recommendations because they could lead to new regulations for seafood imports.

The report can be found here

1 comment:

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