In a letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Southern Shrimp Alliance, the agency provided an accounting of the sampling and testing program run on imported shrimp in fiscal year 2012 (FY2012). In total, the FDA reported that it had taken 973 samples from roughly 104,000 entry lines of shrimp and shrimp products in FY2012. This works out to sampling and testing of less than one percent (0.9%) of all shrimp imports.
As explained in the letter, samples are taken for a variety of reasons “FDA samples of shrimp and shrimp products may be analyzed for filth, pesticides, heavy metals, animal drug residues, food and color additives, microbiological contamination, and/or decomposition.”
With regard to Vietnam, imports from that country accounted for 5.4% of the entry lines of shrimp and shrimp products in FY2012. Of the 5,560 entry lines of Vietnamese shrimp, 83 samples were taken from 67 different entry lines. Accordingly, the FDA sampled and tested only 1.2% of the entry lines of shrimp products from Vietnam in FY2012.
A review of FDA refusals in FY2012 indicates that the agency refused nearly one out of every six (16.4%) of the shrimp entry lines sampled from Vietnam. Of the eleven refusals of shrimp from Vietnam, five were for the presence of veterinary drug residues – meaning that FDA found banned antibiotics in roughly eight percent (7.5%) of the entry lines sampled. The letter does not indicate whether every entry line of Vietnamese shrimp sampled by FDA was tested for veterinary drug residues. Moreover, despite accounting for only five percent of shrimp entry lines, Vietnamese shrimp accounted for over sixteen percent (16.1%) of the FDA’s thirty-one total refusals of shrimp in FY2012 for veterinary drug residues.
While the Southern Shrimp Alliance applauds the FDA’s disclosure of the extent of the agency’s sampling and testing program for imported shrimp in FY2012, the administrative determination to engage in only minimal oversight of shrimp imports from Vietnam is gravely disappointing. Consistent with media reports, the track record of the Vietnamese seafood exporting industry has been abysmal with respect to food safety. The minimal sampling and testing done by the FDA has led to significant findings of contamination by banned antibiotics; antibiotics intentionally added to farmed shrimp to lessen production costs despite risks to consumers.
In FY2012, the United States imported over 84.5 million pounds of shrimp from Vietnam. Based on the results of the FDA sampling over 6.3 million pounds of this shrimp likely entered the U.S. market contaminated with banned antibiotics. For a sense of perspective on how big that total is, the United States imported a total of 7.0 million pounds of shrimp from Bangladesh in all of FY2012.
Addressing the continued poor performance of Vietnamese aquaculture exports is not a new challenge. However, the FDA’s minimal testing and oversight regime does not appear to be a serious effort to confront that challenge.
Read the FDA’s December 12, 2012 letter to the Southern Shrimp Alliance: