In a March 7, 2013, letter to Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), SSA indicated its strong support for legislation that would substantially strengthen the capabilities of Federal and State governments to combat fraudulent labeling and the illegal use of banned antibiotics and pesticides in seafood imports. http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Southern-Shrimp-Allianc1.pdf
Schemes to evade US seafood safety standards, labeling requirements and anti-dumping duties for imported shrimp are among SSA’s top priorities for protecting the interests of US shrimp fishermen and the health of US shrimp consumers.
SSA expressed its great appreciation to Congressman Markey, who serves as the Ranking Minority Member of the Natural Resources Committee, and to the bipartisan original cosponsors of the bill including Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC), Congressman John Tierney (D-MA), Congressman Bill Keating (D-MA), Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) and Congressman Jo Bonner (R-AL), for their leadership on this issue.
The bill, entitled the “Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act” or “SAFE Act” ( H.R.1012 ) is similar to but even stronger than a bill of the same name introduced last year by Congressman Markey and 19 bipartisan cosponsors in the 112th Congress. SSA also supported the previous bill and had the opportunity to provide the Congressman with a number of suggestions for improving the new legislation.
A section-by-section summary of the bill provided by Congressman Markey’s office is provided below. A major focus of the bill is to substantially improve the traceability of seafood imports by requiring extensive documentation on the origins and manner of production of both wild and farmed seafood throughout the chain of custody from production, to importation, to retail sale. In doing so, the bill would improve the transparency to the US seafood industry and US consumers alike on how, where and when their seafood was produced as well as the correct identification of the species and weight of the product.
Of particular interest to SSA are the provisions that would require all farm-raised seafood imports to be clearly labeled as such “along with information regarding the country of cultivation, the location of the aquaculture production area, and the method of cultivation”. The bill further requires restaurants to provide this information to customers upon request.
This represents a very major step forward in seafood traceability and transparency to the US consumer who rightfully expects to know the answers to these basic yet critical questions when buying seafood in a store or a restaurant– “Where and how was this produced?” , “Is this safe to eat?” and “Am I really getting what I paid for?”
Stronger labeling requirements in the bill for imports of farm raised shrimp may also serve to strengthen SSA’s efforts to combat circumvention of anti-dumping duties.
Meaningful enforcement is always another priority of SSA. The bill would require a number of important improvements to the coordination and effectiveness of multiple federal authorities over seafood safety and fraud including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The bill would further provide for increased inspections of seafood imports, impose stiffer penalties for violations, require the publication of a public list of offenders, and provide the State attorneys general with the authority to bring civil actions and recover monetary damages from violators.
Although it is a challenging time for legislating in the US Congress, SSA will be working with both the bill’s sponsors and the Committees of jurisdiction to move this important legislation forward. SSA further expects a companion bill to be introduced in the Senate soon.
H.R. 1012, the Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (MARKEY, D-MA)
In October 2011, separate investigations by the Boston Globe and the advocacy group Oceana found that seafood fraud – the mislabeling or misrepresentation of seafood – by restaurants and grocery stores in the Boston area was rampant. Using DNA testing, the Globe found that 48% of the seafood it sampled from restaurants and stores was not the species that was advertised; Oceana found fraud in 18% of its DNA tests, which were limited to seafood from supermarkets. Subsequent investigations in Los Angeles and Miami have made similar discoveries. These results confirm the fears expressed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a 2009 report that the Federal government was not adequately addressing seafood fraud, especially with respect to the 91% of seafood that the U.S. imports. This lack of oversight can harm the health and finances of consumers, and negatively affect the profitability of U.S. fishermen who play by the rules. Ensuring that seafood is traceable from sea to sale requires improved coordination of Federal agency activities, and new authorities to hold violators accountable.
Following the Boston Globe investigation, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) inquiring about their oversight of seafood fraud. The FDA has the lead responsibility for seafood safety and seafood labeling at the Federal level, but NOAA also has significant expertise and resources that could be utilized to address safety concerns. The FTC is responsible for regulating whether seafood is being truthfully advertised. The responses to these letters indicated that the agencies could more effectively work together to combat the issue of seafood fraud. Further, a 2011 GAO report found that Federal agencies are failing to coordinate appropriately to ensure that seafood imported into the U.S. meets basic requirements for safe human consumption. FDA and NOAA had pledged to improve coordination in a 2009 memorandum of understanding, but the GAO report made clear that the agencies have taken little action to implement the agreement. The potential for imported seafood to contain levels of antibiotics, preservatives, or other contaminants that are not safe for human consumption necessitates that we fully utilize all available resources to increase and improve screening of imported seafood.
GAO estimates that only 2 percent of seafood imported into the U.S. is inspected at all, and that only 0.001 percent is inspected for seafood fraud. This puts U.S. consumers at risk of being swindled and sickened. It also puts U.S. fishermen at risk of having the prices they receive for their catch undercut by inferior and falsely labeled foreign product. Government reports and outside investigations have made clear that we need to address this issue, leading to the development of the SAFE Seafood Act.
SAFE Seafood Act
Section by Section Analysis:
- Lists the short title as the “Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act.”
- Requires the Secretary of Commerce (Commerce) and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to execute a memorandum of understanding to improve interagency cooperation on seafood safety between NOAA and FDA.
- Ensures inspections conducted to determine seafood safety also look for seafood fraud.
- Establishes procedures for increasing the number of local, state, and federal officials authorized to conduct seafood fraud and safety inspections.
- Requires development of a publically available list of exporters by country who violate Federal seafood safety laws.
- Requires HHS, in consultation with Commerce, to update and improve its list of standardized names for seafood and ensure that the list is accurate and publicly available.
- Requires data already required to be collected by U.S. fishermen on species, production method (gear type, farmed or wild), geographic catch area, and weight or number of fish to stay with the seafood through processing, distribution, and sale, and requires equivalent data to accompany imported seafood.
- Allows the Secretary of Commerce to refuse shipments of fraudulent seafood from foreign exporters, and requires the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Health and Human services to coordinate on sanctioning exporters.
- Ensures inspections conducted to determine seafood safety also look for seafood fraud.
- Requires development of a publically available list of exporters by country that violate Federal seafood fraud laws.
- Gives state attorneys general the authority to bring a civil action on behalf of a state’s residents to enjoin fraud and/or receive damages.
- Requires a biennial joint report from Commerce and HHS on progress made in ensuring seafood safety and preventing seafood fraud.
- Non-preemption of stronger state seafood safety and fraud laws.
- Definitions: Seafood fraud means the mislabeling or misrepresentation of seafood in violation of the Act or other Federal laws and regulations.
Staff Contact: Matt Strickler (5-6065)