Friday, June 29, 2007

Once Again, An Imported Seafood Scare

I've written about China shipping deadly puffer fish labeled as monkfish and that country's adulteration of fish feed with melamine. I've described the kinds of things analysts are finding in other imported Chinese seafood--antibiotics in catfish, for example. And while researching and writing a story about the USDA's plans to allow chicken imports from China, I came across a nauseating description of fish farms: Chinese farmers actually suspend the chickens over ponds, allowing the birds' feces to serve as feed. All the while, Chinese seafood shipments kept arriving at our ports and making their way to grocery stores and restaurants nationwide--at least until yesterday:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration yesterday banned the import of five types of farm-raised fish and shrimp from China because they have been found to contain unsafe drugs, some of which can cause cancer.

The species include catfish, shrimp, eels, basa -- a kind of catfish -- and the carp-like dace. The FDA is not ordering that the products be pulled out of restaurants or from supermarket shelves but said that all incoming shipments would be stopped immediately. The chemicals found in the food "could cause health problems if consumed over a long period of time," said David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection.

Those unsafe drugs and "chemicals" they're referring to? Some, like fluoroquinolone, are powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics with various negative side effects (neuropathy, heart problems, and hypoglycemia, to name a few). Their use in edible goods is prohibited here, largely because certain bacteria have already developed quinolone-resistant strains (gonorrhea, for example) and mycobacterium (i.e. certain strains of tuberculosis) have, alarmingly, begun developing resistance, too.

Dear Government: Since the US doesn't have the capability to inspect all these containers and you keep cutting back the FDA's budget, reducing its staff, and closing its labs, when are you going to put a full stop to all ingestible imports from China until such time as that nation can prove it has cleaned up its foul act? I look forward to hearing your answer.

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