WASHINGTON – China, the leading exporter of seafood to the U.S., is raising most of its fish products in water contaminated with raw sewage and compensating by using dangerous drugs and chemicals, many of which are banned by the Food and Drug Administration.
China has consistently topped the list of countries whose products were refused by the FDA – and that list includes many countries, including Mexico and Canada, who export far more food products to the U.S. than China.
While less than half of Asia has access to sewage treatment plants, aquaculture – the raising of seafood products – has become big business on the continent, especially in China.
In China, No. 1 in aquaculture in the world, 3.7 billion tons of sewage is discharged into rivers, lakes and coastal water – some of which are used by the industry. Only 45 percent of China has any sewage-treatment facilities, putting the country behind the rest of Asia.
According to a new report by Food & Water Watch, the aquaculture industry crams fish and shellfish into facilities to maximize production, generating large amounts of waste, contaminating water and spreading disease if left untreated. The industry tries to control the spread of bacterial infections, disease and parasites by pumping the food supplies with antibiotics and the waters with fungicides and pesticides.
Many of the products used are banned in the U.S. Traces of these drugs have been showing up increasingly in imports – especially from China.
“In addition to potentially making people sick, overuse of such drugs is contributing to antibiotic resistance, a growing public health concern in a variety of foods,” says Food & Water Watch in its report “Import Alert: Government Fails Consumers, Falls Short on Seafood Inspections.”
But the grave news on China’s seafood exports is worsened by the FDA’s inability to inspect imports. The percentage of important seafood shipments with samples taken for laboratory inspection has decreased over the past four years, from 0.88 percent in 2003 to 0.59 percent in 2006 – this while seafood consumption in the U.S. was rising and more of that seafood was coming from China.
China became the leading exporter of seafood to the U.S. in 2004 – and amounts are rising fast. Chinese imports were up 14 percent in 2005 and 23 percent in 2006. This year, so far, they are up 34 percent over 2006.
“China’s imports of aquaculture products are increasing despite the country’s history of violations for veterinary drug residues,” says Food & Water Watch. “Between 2003 and 2006, 35 percent of all refusals for veterinary drug residues were found on shipments from China. In 2006, 62.4 percent of all refusals for veterinary drug residues came from there.”
Every year, one in four Americans is afflicted with a food-borne illness, with seafood being responsible for about 18 percent of 20 percent of those cases – or 15.2 million.
“The Food and Drug Administration can’t find what it’s not looking for,” says Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “FDA’s appalling record on inspecting seafood imports is irresponsible and poses a real threat to both the health of the American public and to homeland security.”
Meanwhile, as the heat on China’s export policies increases, Beijing is adamant that it is doing nothing wrong, and brands warnings issued by U.S. officials irresponsible – as in the case the latest scare over toothpaste contaminated with diethylene glycol.
“So far we have not received any report of death resulting from using the toothpaste,” fumed China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision. “The U.S. handling (of this case) is neither scientific nor responsible.”
The FDA issued a warning Friday after toothpaste containing DEG was detected in a shipment seized at the border. The government says at least 100 people died after taking cough syrup containing DEG, an industrial solvent used in paint and antifreeze.
China’s dismal drug-safety record was underscored this week by a Chinese court’s decision to sentence to death the country’s former top drug regulator.