Last week, the state of Alabama instituted a stop sale order on imported catfish and pangasius, a catfish-like fish (pangasius is frequently mislabeled as catfish) after discovering that high numbers of the samples that had been inspected were contaminated with illegal antibiotics called flouroquinolones. In the case of pangasius, this is just the latest in a long list of problems, including a May 2009 incident in which the president of Virginia Star Seafood Corporation was convicted of selling more than 10 million pounds of frozen pangasius labeled as other types of fish and avoiding $12 million in antidumping duties. (“Dumping” a product refers to the practice of importing it at a cost lower than its production cost in order to outcompete domestic producers before raising the price again. When importers are caught dumping products, theyre required to pay antidumping duties.) Pangasius, which looks and tastes similar to catfish produced here in the U.S., is produced in farms in Asia, primarily in Vietnam. U.S. catfish producers have worked to prevent pangasius from being imported and undercutting their sales.
This provides another reminder about the many problems with seafood imported from other countries, where sanitation standards and regulations on chemical inputs are often weaker or even nonexistent. The U.S. now imports over 80% of the seafood consumed here, and much of that is farmed in countries like China and Thailand. In many cases, foreign fish farms use chemicals and antibiotics that are illegal in the U.S. to try to compensate for disease caused by overcrowded and even unsanitary growing conditions.
Even more troubling is that less than 2% of the seafood imported into the U.S. is inspected. This antibiotic-contaminated fish is not an isolated incident. Time and time again, seafood that does get inspected has been turned away for containing illegal levels of chemical pesticides, antibiotics, and filth. It‚ disturbing to think about: if all this contamination is found in the few inspections that are conducted, how much undetected amounts of contaminated seafood could be passing into the country and making it to consumers plates?
But don’t despair‚ there are ways to get cleaner, safer seafood. Be sure to check out Food & Water Watch‚ Smart Seafood Guide for our detailed recommendations and a list of questions to ask when selecting seafood. These can help guide you to the best choices for you and your lifestyle.
, Erica Schuetz