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Consumers deserve better protection say southern shrimpers

FLORIDA Rigorous safety systems for imported seafood, similar to those found in the European Union, Japan and Canada, are being demanded of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA) want to see the same US import regulations applied to seafood imports as are implemented with imported meat and poultry products.

SSA stood before the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety, earlier this week and advocated change. It said that currently the FDA relies solely on point-of-entry inspection of just one percent of seafood products coming into the country.

The system lacks assurance and SSA says it makes the US one of the most attractive market for of-loading contaminated products. "There is a direct cause and effect relationship between market closures or restrictions on imports into the EU and Japan due to food safety violations and the diversion of contaminated products to the United States," explained John Williams, executive director of the SSA.

He says if the situation persists then the US will become a magnet for attracting unsafe and contaminated shrimp from across the world.

And it's already happening, says the SSA. An EU ban on Pakistani seafood products in April 2007, fuelled a direct increase in shrimp exports from Pakistan to the US. Trade jumped from negligible levels in February this year to more than 165,000 pounds by June.

Safety vital
To protect the safety of American consumers and the overall integrity of its food supply, the FDA must ensure the safety of seafood imports throughout the product's life cycle, sas the SSA.

Reform proposals include a requirement for exporting countries to administer food safety standards that are at least equivalent to US laws and verification that individual exporters adhere them. Mandatory minimum inspection and testing rate and significant penalties for noncompliance with US safety standards are also top of the list of SSA demands.

"Essentially, minimal FDA oversight allows importers to self-certify compliance with US safety standards. Also, the FDA does not quarantine imports at US borders. Instead, it allows importers, who have financial incentives to use the product they purchased in the most profitable way, to take delivery of even the most suspicious seafood imports," said Mr Williams, accusingly.

The SSA says that FDA enforcement is insufficient to dissuade or prevent port-shopping, the practice of seeking market entry of merchandise that has bee rejected merchandise elsewhere.

In stark contrast, the EU, Canada, Japan and other major shrimp importers operate tough inspection and import certification regulations - that are policed very effectively.

Laws in placee
And USDA already has the means to operate such a policy with seafood. It's Food safety enforcement policies for imported meats, poultry, and egg products are tough with higher levels of inspection and testing, strong penalties for noncompliance, and a multilateral exchange of information with other importing countries. The SSA industry wants to see the same laws applied to the seafood sector

The market for seafood is expanding rapidly in the US and the health risks posed by contaminated imported seafood are serious

"Failure to implement a meaningful imported food regulatory regime threatens the safety of American consumers, domestic producers, and the overall integrity of our nation’s food supply,” stated Williams. " We hope Congress and the Administration will work together quickly to make FDA function as well as the food safety regimes do in other major importing countries.”

SSA is an alliance of the US warm water wild shrimp fishery from eight states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

For more information go to www.shrimpalliance.com.

the Fish Site Editor

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