Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chinese import alert.... going away

The folks at The Catfish Institute want you to know:

The FDA is reportedly considering quietly dropping the "import alerts" for five species of Chinese seafood imports, including catfish and shrimp, that were put in place during the summer of 2007. As a refresher, that was the "bad summer" for Chinese imports -- of lethal toothpaste, pet food, lead-painted toys, and contaminated seafood.

The import alerts require chemical testing for entry into the U.S. Unfortunately, the private lab testing system, as described below, is rife with abuse and deception. Not surprisingly, after a year of this the FDA is declaring victory over contaminated Chinese seafood, since they are not hearing too much any more about contaminated shipments, and are considering dropping the testing requirement.

While the testing requirement as currently constructed is little more than a "fig leaf" for a dysfunctional system, it at least forces importers to go through the motions.
Given the Chinese track record on consumer safety issues, and the FDA's inability to monitor and police imports, the last thing the Administration should do would be to remove even this minimal level of protection.

More importantly, dropping the import alerts for these items would cause the December (2007) trade agreement with China to kick in. Under this agreement, the U.S. would essentially outsource its seafood inspections to the Chinese Government and its designated producers. As discussed below, the Chinese food safety agencies are very much a work in progress, are in considerable turmoil, and have a very poor performance record. Is this really the system to which we want to entrust our seafood inspections?

The events of this past summer again underscore the need for a workable U.S. inspection system -- repeated outbreaks of illness both at home and abroad that were exacerbated by under-funded, inadequate, and overwhelmed inspection systems.

In the waning days of the current Administration, behind the thick fog of the elections and the rhetoric, the FDA could well cave in to the demands of Chinese importers and their free-trader corporate allies to eliminate any meaningful examination of incoming containers. They will claim that the "problem has been solved" and that the action will produce "greater efficiency," "less regulation," and "less bureaucracy." We disagree.

-- The Catfish Institute