This is copied from Itchmo:
Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Joseph Basile, an Alabama state scientist, drops a frozen catfish filet into an industrial food processor and pulverizes it into a fluffy white powder.
The grinding in a laboratory in Montgomery is part of a test of imported seafood for drugs that U.S. regulators say can cause cancer or increase resistance to antibiotics. Alabama officials have reported finding banned medicines missed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in seafood from China, Vietnam and other Asian countries.
``I'm sure that FDA would probably wish we'd go away,'' says Ron Sparks, commissioner of Alabama's Department of Agriculture and Industries, which conducts the seafood testing, in an interview. ``My wish is that they'd come to the table and work with us.''
Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana also have found banned drugs in imported seafood, according to statements by regulators in those states. The tests, conducted after the products cleared U.S. ports and were sent on for sale in grocery stores or restaurants, show the FDA isn't adequately protecting consumers from tainted fish, food safety advocates said.
The FDA says it does a good job of keeping unsafe products out of the food supply. In June, the agency began blocking imports of some farm-raised seafood from China until importers provide test results showing shipments are free of banned drugs.
41 of 94 Samples
Yet, of 94 samples of Chinese catfish checked by Alabama since March, the state reports that 41 tested positive for fluoroquinolones, antibiotics banned in the U.S. for seafood. Of 13 more samples of species similar to catfish, including one called basa, five tested positive for the antibiotic. The exporting countries included Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.
Eating seafood with fluoroquinolones can increase resistance to similar antibiotics used in humans to fight infections, according to the FDA.
Fish farmers in China and elsewhere use medications banned in the U.S. to prevent disease among animals raised in crowded and unsanitary conditions, according to a report in July by Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer group in Washington.
Seafood from abroad accounted for 83 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. last year, compared with 57 percent in 1996, according to the Commerce Department. The U.S. imported 5.4 billion pounds of seafood in 2006, up 69 percent from 1996.
Alabama's farmers are threatened by increased competition from Asian producers whose costs are lower. There are more than 190 catfish farms in the state, generating $99 million in sales as of 2006, second in domestic production to Mississippi, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
On a Catfish Farm
An hour and a half drive west of Montgomery, on a farm near Marion Junction with about 430 acres of dark green catfish ponds, owner Dean ``Butch'' Wilson stands on a metal walkway tossing feed pellets into the water.
Wilson's business produces 6,500 pounds of catfish an acre annually, and he's worried that contaminated imports will depress sales of domestic fish.
Alabama's testing promotes a ``level playing field'' because overseas producers would have to spend more money to clean their water if they didn't use outlawed drugs, he said.
``They couldn't grow fish if they didn't use those antibiotics,'' Wilson said.
Alabama is testing imported seafood because of safety concerns, not to protect the local industry, said Sparks, the agriculture commissioner.
Starting With Shrimp
The state started analyzing shrimp in 2002 after learning that Canada and the European Union found contaminants in imported products. In that year, the state got positive results for chloramphenicol, a drug used to treat infections that has been associated with aplastic anemia, a potentially fatal disease in which the body doesn't produce enough blood cells.
Three years later, Alabama inspected seafood from Vietnam, found outlawed drugs, and said the farm-raised products couldn't be sold until they are tested. Earlier this year, Alabama took a similar step for catfish from China.
Since Alabama began its investigations, the state has found positive results for other drugs, including malachite green, said Lance Hester, director of the food safety division of the Alabama agriculture department. That drug is an anti-fungal product used by fish farmers that can cause cancer after long-term exposure, according to the FDA.
China has promised to improve the safety of seafood and other exports. The country executed its chief food and drug regulator last month, citing corruption.
``Some of the fish exported to the U.S. probably do have problems,'' said Liu Rui, deputy secretary general of the government-affiliated China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Association in Beijing, in an interview. ``Not all the fish sold to the U.S. is tainted, but only that from one or two firms.''
At the Alabama lab in Montgomery last month, Basile, a state chemist, had a backlog of seafood to run through the food processor. After chopping up the fish, Basile starts a week-long battery of tests. Basile checks so many samples that the lab has run out of storage space.
During five years of testing, Basile has seen overseas seafood farmers move from one drug to another as regulators in different parts of the world crack down.
``It used to be a big deal,'' Basile said in an interview. ``You'd say, `Oh my God, I've got another positive.' Now, with the fluoroquinolones, almost half are coming back positive.''
U.S. Checking Less
As Americans eat more imported seafood, the FDA is checking a smaller share of it for contaminants. The regulators took samples for lab testing of 0.6 percent of 859,323 shipments of imported seafood last year, according to the agency. That's down from 0.9 percent in 2003, according to a Food & Water Watch report that was based on an analysis of FDA records.
The FDA rejected 0.1 percent of seafood shipments last year because they contained banned drugs, were filthy or failed to meet other U.S. standards, according to data provided by the agency. Imports rejected by the FDA in June included shrimp from Vietnam contaminated with salmonella and eel from China containing banned drugs, according to the FDA's Web site.
The agency said yesterday that it has postponed plans to close seven of 13 field laboratories in the U.S. that test the safety of food and other products after opposition from members of Congress. The FDA has described the lab closings as an effort to make more efficient use of space and provide money to pay for more modern equipment.
Lab Closings Questioned
The closings would weaken the agency's ability to detect tainted food imports, said Representative John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell and Representative Bart Stupak, both Democrats from Michigan, asked the agency in a letter whether ``the underlying purpose'' of the closings is to turn over food testing to private companies.
The FDA should increase lab testing and inspect more seafood processing operations overseas, said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington group often critical of the agency. The FDA had the equivalent of 11 employees conducting overseas inspections of all types of food in the last fiscal year, according to the agency. The inspections can be done only if countries allow them.
``The fact that the states can go in and readily find violations means the FDA isn't stopping contaminated products from coming in,'' DeWaal said in an interview. ``If other states were testing, they would probably find very similar results.''
The FDA screens imported seafood based on an assessment of the risk it poses, the country it comes from and the track record of the company exporting the products, said William Jones, the FDA's director of seafood safety.
In addition to blocking the imports from China, regulators have been working with their counterparts in Vietnam and elsewhere to reduce use of banned medications, he said. The FDA's system works, although some contaminated fish may slip through, Jones said.
``You can't test every single entry,'' Jones said. ``If you did, you wouldn't have any food.''Here
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