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For Immediate
September 20, 2000

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Testimony of Caroline Smith DeWaal on
“How Our Food Safety System Should Address Microbial Contamination”

  U.S. Seafood-Safety System “Unworthy of Public Support”

WASHINGTON - According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data, only 24 percent of all seafood firms have fully implemented safety regulations required by the Agency since 1997. In contrast, meat and poultry processing plants, which fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have an almost 100% compliance rate. In addition, while USDA mandates daily on-site inspections and microbial testing at meat and poultry plants, seafood processing plants are inspected once or less each year and have no mandated microbial testing system.

   According to Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the lack of adequate inspection and microbial testing of seafood, including finfish and shellfish, means consumers are eating seafood without a safety net.

   In a hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee today, DeWaal testified that:

  • 30% of the seafood firms inspected in 1999 had inadequate Hazard Analysis/Critical Controls Points (HACCP) plans or failed to properly implement their HACCP plans.
  • 16% of seafood processors required to have safety measures in place had no HACCP plan. Only 24% of all seafood firms had fully implemented HACCP plans deemed adequate by the FDA.
  • An additional 30% of seafood plants inexplicably are not required to have a HACCP plan.
   “Since 1990, seafood has caused 237 documented food-poisoning outbreaks, more than any other food source,” said DeWaal. “Consumers can be more confident about the safety of meat and poultry because the USDA is properly monitoring and enforcing the HACCP program. In contrast, the seafood industry has a very poor record of compliance and there is no government testing to monitor pathogens often associated with seafood poisoning. FDA’s seafood-safety system is an industry honor system unworthy of public support.”

   FDA’s inspection of seafood plants in 1999 found that 71% of processors of smoked fish, 69% of firms producing vacuum-packed fish, and 63% of firms producing cooked, ready-to-eat seafood lacked adequate hazard controls.

   “It’s clear that consumers would benefit from mandatory testing for dangerous bacteria and chemicals by both the seafood industry and government to detect these hazards,” continued DeWaal. “Congress should require FDA and USDA to establish performance standards to demonstrate that their HACCP programs actually reduce the hazards in our food supply.”

EDITORS/REPORTERS NOTE: Recently, a labor-support organization and a public-interest group issued a report highly critical of USDA's HACCP program. The report charged that under HACCP, more contaminated meat and poultry is reaching consumers. That is not true. Surveys have demonstrated that Salmonella contamination rates in meat and poultry products have declined since HACCP was instituted. While the new system is not perfect, HACCP is a big improvment over the system of relying wholly on government inspectors to find and remove all hazards from the food supply.