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Today's Seafood Special: Pig Manure, Antibiotics, and Diarrhea Bugs

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page and our Health Issues page.

 Next time you tuck into a Red Lobster "Endless Shrimp" special or score some $7-per-pound salmon at a supermarket, consider this: You're very likely eating imported seafood raised on a factory-style farm in Asia-and it almost certainly was never inspected by the Food and Drug Administration on its way into the country and onto your plate.

Is that...safe? Big retailers like Walmart and restaurant chains like Darden (owner of Red Lobster) say yes, in part because some of the seafood they buy bears the Best Aquaculture Practices label. Who issues that label? The Global Aquaculture Alliance, an industry endeavor-its board consists of representatives from (you guessed it) Darden, as well as Cargill, the Chilean salmon industry, and a large farmed-shrimp importer called Eastern Fish Company. Not surprisingly, BAP standards for farmed fish placed near the bottom (16 of 20) in a 2012 ranking of aquaculture labels by the University of Victoria's Seafood Ecology Research Group. (Darden says it independently tests its shrimp for contaminants but declined to share its results; Walmart did not answer our questions about inspections.)

But the responsibility for ensuring the safety of our food doesn't fall to retailers and restaurants alone. The oversight authority belongs to the FDA, and the task is massive. In 2011, Americans consumed 4.7 billion pounds of seafood, 91 percent of which was imported. And yet the FDA only inspects a tiny amount of this giant haul: 2 percent at most. (The equivalent agency in Canada inspects 15 percent of imported seafood; in the European Union the figure is 50 percent.)

That's worrisome because imported seafood has a spotty track record. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 percent of the 39 foodborne-illness outbreaks caused by imports from 2005 to 2010 involved seafood-more than any other type of food. 


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