If These Are the Tainted Chinese Imports the FDA Is Catching, What Are They Missing?

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:16 PM PDT

Recently released records for the month of August confirm that the FDA is still intercepting shipments of tainted seafood coming in from China. The first item on the rejection list? Frozen Breaded Shrimp, refused entry for containing "veterinary drug residues." But no Refusal Actions list is complete without the tainted Eel we've reported on previously. Sure enough, only nine items down—past the Prawn Crackers withheld for "unknown coloring" and the Unidentified White Powder lacking any directions whatsoever—there it is, the persistent Eel, Frozen, Vacuum-Packed, Prepared, Cooked, and complete with "unsafe additives."

Highlights of August's records include Frozen Cod Portions, Cod Blocks, Cod Fillets, Sole Fillets, Mahi Mahi Fillets, and Canned Chunk Tuna that were withheld for being "filthy, putrid, or decomposed," while the Frozen Squid Salad contained "a poisonous and deleterious substance." And that's just the seafood. It begs the question—if this is what the FDA is catching, what are they missing?

William Hubbard, a retired senior Food and Drug Administration official who served under seven presidents, told Mother Jones that as of this spring there were only about 300 inspectors to spot-check more than 13 million annual shipments. Given this, it's pretty certain that some of this tainted seafood is making its way onto your dinner plate.

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In the current issue of Mother Jones, writer Joshua Kurlantzick details the failure of U.S. safety and regulatory agencies to protect the American public from tainted imports. In "The Chinavore's Dilemma," Kurlantzick writes:

FDA documents scrutinized by Mother Jones show that officials have long known dangerous products were entering the country. They knew it because some portion of the tainted, counterfeit, or mislabeled shipments were being intercepted and tallied in monthly lists that get passed around the agency. While the same products appear on the lists month after month, agency officials seldom warn the public until after Americans are hurt or killed.

For example, starting in February 2006, FDA inspectors routinely caught shipments of eels and other Chinese seafood tainted by pesticides, illegal drugs, bacterial infections, and malachite green, a carcinogenic dye. But agency officials didn't sound a significant public alert until 16 months later, in June 2007.

Read the rest of our investigative report here.

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