Do You Care Where Your Seafood Comes From?
The customer is always right. But is the customer always informed? Every day, money is made in this country based on the premise that most consumers don’t care about information pertaining to the products they buy. The imported seafood industry banks on it.
Every year, Americans eat on average 15.8 pounds of seafood, most of which is imported from countries like Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Province of China and Malaysia. According to an NBC Today Show investigative report, “80 percent of fish and 90 percent of shrimp come from overseas.” The reason this is such a big deal is due to the high percentage of imported seafood that is contaminated with toxins, combined with the fact that the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of all imported seafood. That’s a formula for food safety disaster.
If importing seafood is so risky, then why is it such a big business? Why don’t we buy more domestic seafood, free of the toxins commonly found in many imports? Obviously, seafood companies keep importing these products because it’s cheaper and they can make higher profits. Oh, and they also count on most American consumers not knowing where their food comes from.
John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute — a trade organization representing seafood importers — flat out told NBC reporter Jeff Rossen that consumers don’t care about the source of our food.
Rossen: “Would you support legislation where we would know, no matter where we go, where are seafood is coming from?”
Connelly: “Studies do not indicate that Americans are deeply interested in the source of their fish or other proteins.”
I think if most American knew that imports were risky, they would certainly make the effort to find out where their seafood is from. Of course, we have resources in place to help. After years of delay, in 2004 USDA required seafood to be labeled with its country of origin, so consumers know from exactly where their seafood is sourced.
There are loopholes, of course, and one of the big problems is that seafood is not always labeled properly. This is where seafood safety standards are so critical. While the USDA handles labeling, the FDA handles inspection. And we are all well aware that, between food contamination outbreaks like eggs, spinach and peanut butter, and the GE salmon controversy, the FDA does not have the capacity to handle thorough seafood inspections. Will the imported seafood industry give us a little help? Probably not. They seem to count on the idea that the FDA has everything under control.
Rossen: “As a consumer, don’t I have a right to know where my seafood is coming from, especially knowing what we know now?”
Connelly: I think that consumers should feel comfortable that FDA does a good job.
Yikes! We have a labeling system that doesn’t work and an inspection system run by a federal agency that, based on their track record, we can’t really trust. It’s a good thing we have tools like the Import Alert Report and the Seafood Guide to help out those of us who do want to know where our seafood comes from.