You don’t want to know what’s in that fish you’re eating—and neither does the FDA

Mother Jones — Today’s Seafood Special: Pig Manure, Antibiotics, and Diarrhea Bugs
Imported seafood is full of dirt and chemicals. So why is the FDA inspecting practically none of it?
By Tom Philpott | Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:01 AM PST

Next time you tuck into a Red Lobster “Endless Shrimp” special or score some $7-per-pound salmon at a supermarket, consider this: You’re very likely eating imported seafood raised on a factory-style farm in Asia—and it almost certainly was never inspected by the Food and Drug Administration on its way into the country and onto your plate.

Is that…safe? Big retailers like Walmart [1] and restaurant chains like Darden [2] (owner of Red Lobster) say yes, in part because some of the seafood they buy bears the Best Aquaculture Practices label. Who issues that label? The Global Aquaculture Alliance [3], an industry endeavor—its board consists of representatives [4] from (you guessed it) Darden, as well as Cargill, the Chilean salmon industry, and a large farmed-shrimp importer called Eastern Fish Company [5]. Not surprisingly, BAP standards for farmed fish placed near the bottom (16 of 20) in a 2012 ranking of aquaculture labels [6] by the University of Victoria’s Seafood Ecology Research Group. (Darden says it independently tests its shrimp for contaminants but declined to share its results; Walmart did not answer our questions about inspections.)

But the responsibility for ensuring the safety of our food doesn’t fall to retailers and restaurants alone. The oversight authority belongs to the FDA, and the task is massive. In 2011, Americans consumed 4.7 billion pounds of seafood [7], 91 percent of which was imported. And yet the FDA only inspects a tiny amount of this giant haul: 2 percent at most [8]. (The equivalent agency in Canada inspects 15 percent of imported seafood; in the European Union the figure is 50 percent.)

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