Target: Thomas D. Williams, Executive Officer of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition branch of the Food and Drug Administration
Goal: Bar the importation of unsafe seafood into the United States
Americans eat nearly 15 billion pounds of seafood every year. A little over half of that is raised or caught in the United States, while the rest of it is imported. Two of the most prolific exporters of seafood are Vietnam, whose bountiful waters supply the U.S. with over 100 million pounds of shrimp (8% of all the shrimp Americans eat) every year, and China, which exports a considerable amount of seafood to America as well. Most of it is of high quality and safe to eat. However, the U.S. has approved for import Asian seafood that has been stored in remarkably unsafe conditions and that poses an exceptionally high risk to consumers.
Much of this seafood comes from the southern Vietnamese coast. The shrimp and other seafood brought into the processing facilities there is processed and handled in utterly foul conditions. Many of the buildings’ climates are unregulated, with temperatures regularly skyrocketing to close to 100 degrees and humidity always being an issue. Plant floors are often littered with trash and flies can be seen crawling across processed shrimp in shockingly high numbers. The shrimp is stored on ice made from tap water; Vietnamese tap water is considered unsafe to drink, playing host to various dangerous microbes and bacteria, which can be passed to the shrimp via the ice.
Chinese fish farms are equally squalid. Dead fish are a common sight in the pools, being left to rot amidst the still living fish. One tilapia farm in China’s Guangdong Province, whose fish is regularly bought by American importers, is known for feeding its fish pig and goose feces. This animal waste is often teeming with pathogens such as the salmonella virus, and poses a great risk to those who consume it. It is a distressingly common practice, used as a cost cutting measure by Chinese fish farmers.
China alone accounts for 27% of the seafood eaten in the U.S. Only a fraction of this is inspected upon arrival. The same goes for Vietnamese imports. Many of the loads that are inspected are regularly turned away, as they tend to be filthy or otherwise tainted. The risk this unsafe seafood poses to consumers is utterly unacceptable. Tell the Food and Drug Administration that loads of seafood from these unsafe sources must be kept out of the United States.
Dear Executive Officer Williams,
As the head of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition you have the daunting task of ensuring that much of what Americans eat is safe. For the most part you and your organization, as well as your counterparts at the U.S.D.A., do a sterling job. There is however, one area in which I feel you that your organization needs to tighten up restrictions and take a more critical role in food safety. That area is the importation of seafood from Asia.
Asian seafood comprises a considerable portion of the seafood consumed in America. Eight percent of all shrimp eaten is imported from Vietnam and 27% of all total seafood in America is imported from China. Unfortunately, Vietnam and China are two of the countries that pose the greatest risk to American consumers. American health codes are as strict as they are because they have been proven to keep people safe—the seafood’s imported from Vietnam and China violate too many U.S. health codes to count.
The processing facilities that Vietnamese shrimp are often brought to are absolutely squalid. Left in non-climate controlled rooms for inordinate amounts of time, the shrimp reaches unsafe temperatures in high humidity. Trash litters the floors of the plants and countless flies are seen crawling across piles of shrimp that are due to be exported. The ice that the shrimp is kept on is made from unsafe Vietnamese tap water, which often is home to dangerous microbes and bacteria, which are then able to access the shrimp. At Chinese fish farms it is not uncommon for fish to be fed livestock feces, rather than a healthy fish food. This puts them at a high risk for salmonella.
It is absolutely necessary that CFSAN and all other food inspection authorities more carefully inspect and regulate seafood being imported from Asia. It is not all bad, but the threat that any tainted seafood poses is unacceptably high. Please keep consumers safety in mind and bar the importation of these dangerous seafood products into America.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: funkblast via flickr