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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Chinese Fish Imports Raise Concerns

I was reading Bill Lambrecht’s article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning, “Seafood imports: worries growing,” and was struck by these quotes:

"As our system becomes more antiquated and more ineffective, the world is sending us their junk."

"When you look at less than 1 percent of shipments, and sample and test maybe one-fifth of those, there’s no way you can protect the American food supply"

The quotes coming from Former FDA and FSIS officials commenting on the findings of inspectors checking Chinese seafood arriving at U.S. ports who found some unsettling discoveries: fish infected with salmonella in Seattle and Baltimore, and shrimp with banned veterinary drugs in Florida. According to Food and Drug Administration records examined by the Post-Dispatch, inspectors turned away nearly 400 shipments of tainted seafood in a year’s time from China. The records told a troubling tale, but even more troubling was what they didn’t tell. Only a tiny fraction of imports are inspected at all, and even fewer are tested.

In 15 years of litigating most of the foodborne illness cases in the United States, I have seen very few illnesses tied to fish products – imported or home raised. I wonder if some of the concerns raised over imports are simply being raised to protect home grown fish companies or if we are really seeing a fishy tale of increased imports or another opportunity for growth here at Marler Clark.

The problems with imports, home produced products and illness were also outlined in a recent report, Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America’s Food from Farm-to-Fork, include:

The U.S. food safety system has not been fundamentally modernized in over 100 years;

Inadequate resources are spent on fighting modern bacteria threats, such as trying to reduce Salmonella or dangerous strains of E. coli;

An estimated 85 percent of known foodborne illness outbreaks are associated with foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the agency receives less than half of the federal funding for food safety;

In the past 3 years, the main food safety function at FDA has lost 20 percent of its science staff and 600 inspectors;

Gaps in current inspection practices mean acts of agroterrorism — such as contamination of wheat gluten or botulism — could go undetected until they are widespread;

While 15 federal agencies are involved in food safety, the efforts are fragmented and no one agency has ultimate authority or responsibility for food safety;

Only one percent of imported foods are inspected. Approximately 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 75 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported; and

States and localities are not required to meet uniform national standards for food safety.

The bottom line is that approximately 76 million Americans — one in 4 — are sickened by foodborne diseases each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. Medical costs and lost productivity due to foodborne illnesses in the U.S. are estimated to cost $44 billion annually.