Tainted Fish Get USDA Stamp Of Approval

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Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana have found banned drugs in imported seafood, according to statements by regulators in those states. The tests, conducted after the products cleared U.S. ports and were sent on for sale in grocery stores or restaurants, show the FDA isn't adequately protecting consumers from tainted fish, food safety advocates said.

Joseph Basile, an Alabama state scientist, drops a frozen catfish filet into an industrial food processor and pulverizes it into a fluffy white powder.

The grinding in a laboratory in Montgomery is part of a test of imported seafood for drugs that U.S. regulators say can cause cancer or increase resistance to antibiotics. Alabama officials have reported finding banned medicines missed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in seafood from China, Vietnam and other Asian countries.

``I'm sure that FDA would probably wish we'd go away,'' says Ron Sparks, commissioner of Alabama's Department of Agriculture and Industries, which conducts the seafood testing, in an interview. ``My wish is that they'd come to the table and work with us.''

The FDA says it does a good job of keeping unsafe products out of the food supply. In June, the agency began blocking imports of some farm-raised seafood from China until importers provide test results showing shipments are free of banned drugs.

41 of 94 Samples

Yet, of 94 samples of Chinese catfish checked by Alabama since March, the state reports that 41 tested positive for fluoroquinolones, antibiotics banned in the U.S. for seafood. Of 13 more samples of species similar to catfish, including one called basa, five tested positive for the antibiotic. The exporting countries included Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

Eating seafood with fluoroquinolones can increase resistance to similar antibiotics used in humans to fight infections, according to the FDA.

Fish farmers in China and elsewhere use medications banned in the U.S. to prevent disease among animals raised in crowded and unsanitary conditions, according to a report in July by Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer group in Washington.





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