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Shrimp Firm Sends Warning Against Chinese Imports

MICRONESIA - A Micronesian shrimp farming company is warning consumers against potential health threats posed by contaminants that may be present in seafood raised in China and marketed in the CNMI under lax government regulations.

In a statement issued Tuesday, staff with Saipan Aquaculture, a burgeoning local shrimp farming business, pointed to reports by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that inspectors have repeatedly found cancer-causing chemicals in farm-raised Chinese seafood.

Local grocery stores, however, continue to carry Chinese farm-raised shrimp and other seafood because of weak import controls, the company says.

“Unfortunately, border control in the CNMI is not as strict as the mainland U.S.,” the statement notes.

“Our supermarkets are flooded with seafood coming from China and we have no assurance they are free from substances that are potential health hazards.”

According to the Saipan Tribune, Chinese exports to the United States have come under increasing scrutiny recently after the deaths of several pets in the American mainland in 2007 were linked to Chinese-made pet foods containing melamine, a chemical found in plastics that the FDA has also encountered in Chinese aquaculture feeds.

Recalls of Chinese toys followed that same year after some were found to contain harmful amounts of lead.

Moreover, the FDA also halted imports of some Chinese shrimp and fish due to concerns over unsafe drugs used to raise them.

According to staff with the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife and the local quarantine office, shipments of frozen shrimp imported to the Commonwealth must arrive with paperwork showing they meet standards from their country of origin. A range of other requirements can also apply to shrimp imports-such as quarantines, permits requirements and veterinary certificates-that can vary depending on whether the shrimp are alive or frozen when they arrive.

One local official, however, admitted that when it comes to frozen shrimp shipments “no inspections” are conducted to determine whether they are contaminated with harmful chemicals like those cited by Saipan Aquaculture.

Among the carcinogens the FDA has previously found in Chinese seafood, the company noted, are nitrofuran, malachite green and gentian violet-chemicals known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Inspectors have also found fluoroquinolone, an antibiotic banned in the United States, in China's seafood exports.

“There's no knowing if these substances are in any of the Chinese shrimp that's being imported,” said Mel Catalma, a Saipan Aquaculture staffer. “It's being brought in by the wholesalers.”

Chinese shrimp imports have not yet damaged Saipan Aquaculture's business, he added, but the company is concerned about the long-term health consequences they could pose for consumers. The testing facilities needed to determine whether imported seafood is contaminated, he said, are not available on Saipan.

China is the second largest exporter of fish and shrimp to the United States behind Canada, according to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2006, for example, the United States imported 1.3 billion pounds of shrimp, including 150 million pounds from China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.