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Failures in Protecting US Against Seafood Fraud

US - In 2007, Americans consumed almost 5 billion pounds of seafood. Most seafood buyers, at many levels - importers, distributors, supermarkets, restaurants, and individual consumers - assume that the seafood they buy is what the seller claims it is. However, this is not always the case.

According to a new report released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), sometimes seafood products are mislabelled for financial gain--an activity called seafood fraud. Three federal agencies play key roles in detecting and preventing seafood fraud: the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

GAO was asked to determine the actions key federal agencies take to help detect and prevent seafood fraud and the extent to which these key federal agencies collaborate with each other to help detect and prevent seafood fraud. GAO reviewed data and documents from each agency on actions to detect and prevent seafood fraud, and interviewed agency officials and other key stakeholders.

According to the report, FDA examines only about two per cent of imported seafood annually, and its primary seafood oversight programme does not address economic fraud risks, which limits its ability to detect fraud. An FDA seafood fraud-related activity is the maintenance of a publicly available list of seafood names that is intended to help the industry correctly label products.

However, until 2009, FDA had not fully updated the list it created in 1993 to reflect over 400 name changes. Finally, FDA's guidance to help seafood processors comply with its seafood oversight programme does not reflect the seafood labelling requirement of the Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 to include the species of fish or shellfish on product labels.

Because of the limited scope of FDA's seafood oversight program, its mismanagement of the Seafood List, and its failure to update its guidance to reflect the allergen labeling requirement, consumers have less assurance that the seafood they purchase is correctly labelled. The GAO report also says that federal agencies that share responsibility for detecting and preventing seafood fraud - CBP, NMFS, and FDA - do not effectively collaborate with each other. Specifically, they have not identified a common goal, established joint strategies, or agreed on roles and responsibilities.

As a result, the agencies have not taken advantage of opportunities to share information that could benefit each agency's efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud, nor have they identified similar and sometimes overlapping activities that could be better coordinated to use limited resources more efficiently.

Further Reading

- You can view the full GAO report by clicking here.

the Fish Site Editor

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